what you need to know about talking politics at work

usnewsUgh, politics at work.

Whether you’re a political junkie who’s delighted to debate issues with your coworkers or you want to leave the room every time they start in, you might be wondering what the boundaries are on politics in the workplace. At U.S. News & World Report today, I’ve got a quick primer on what kind of political discussion your employer has to allow, where it can intervene, what you should do if a coworker won’t stop hassling you about politics, and how you should manage your own politics when it comes to your job.

You can read it here.

{ 165 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Betsy

    Ugh. I’ve been dealing with some bullying from a handful of my peers at work for not supporting their candidate. They are younger liberal men who have been giving me SUCH a hard time because I one time said at a happy hour that I was actually thinking about voting for the other Democratic candidate, rather than the one they prefer. It’s actually becoming more of a sexist issue, since they’re essentially claiming I’m voting with my genitalia rather than my brain. I didn’t think it was worth causing a fuss at work since it’s mostly at happy hour functions, but I have been feeling like I need to avoid going since my requests for civility have been ignored. If it continues, I’ll go to my manager.

    All this to say that it sucks and it comes from all political orientations. This is very timely.

    Reply
    1. Moosely

      I apologize for those bullying you. It’s my belief that a) discussion of politics shouldn’t really take place in the workplace since it’s such a divisive issue and b) everyone should have the right to vote and be comfortable with who they’re voting for. If it came down to it, I’m more than happy to drive voters to the polls despite whatever candidate they support, be it Sanders, Clinton, Rubio or even Trump.

      That being said, just try telling them that’s sexist and ignorant to assume that you’re voting for the other democratic candidate because of your gender. Furthermore, you said you were “thinking” about voting for the other candidate and this had given them the prime opportunity to convince you otherwise; however, they squandered it by engaging in petty tactics and bullying. If they had approached you in a more mature manner, would you have been more receptive to their opinion? If so, maybe tell them that. No one should be outright bullied for their political choices, even if they’re incredibly stupid (like building a wall, for instance).

      Reply
    2. Adam

      I’m sorry you’re getting subjected to that. I really hate that and it’s so unfair. I have absolutely no idea who I’ll be voting for this year (though I do have a number of “If this; then that” scenarios), but watching the voter bases just ravage each other is so disheartening. This is why we can’t have nice things, people! And I say that in complete seriousness.

      Reply
    3. Mona Lisa Saperstein

      Ugh, I HATE this. It seems like this election season, Democratic ladies are being accused of voting with our genitals no matter who we’re voting for. If we’re pro-Hillary, clearly we’re only voting for her because she’s a woman; if we’re pro-Bernie, clearly we’re only voting for him because the men in our lives told us to (thx for that one Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright).

      Reply
      1. Jaydee

        But if we were all really voting with our genitals, wouldn’t Martin O’Malley have done a lot better in the polls (at least among straight women)? I mean, he’s attractive and also pro-choice, so that’s a win-win.

        Reply
      2. anoning

        It’s not really anything new. The same issue came up in the 2008 Dem race, though then it was gender and race. But there are a lot of people who vote or would vote for candidates merely because of things like gender/race/religion/sexuality/etc. because they want to see the First X Attribute President, and I know some people like that and they tend to be very vocal about it, so I think people just jump on that bandwagon and assume everyone is like that.

        I have a coworker who is so frustrated by the 2016 race in particular because as a Jewish woman she gets a lot of people asking which Dem candidate she identifies with more, which is pretty much asking if she considers her gender or religion more important. It’s ridiculous.

        Reply
        1. Pokebunny

          The interesting thing is that no matter who you vote fire this time, it’s going to be a First X President.

          First Jewish president
          First woman president
          First Hispanic president
          First Canadian president
          First president with no political background

          Reply
          1. OlympiasEpiriot

            Ya know, there’s some genealogical evidence that LBJ was actually the first Jewish president.

            …*walks away whistling*

            Reply
          2. Megs

            Well, that last one is debatable (Eisenhower and Grant both come to mind). I may have recently been discussing whether a certain candidate can really be considered an “outsider” when they’ve spent as much time at fundraisers as they have. :)

            Reply
          3. all aboard the anon train

            Technically, Edith Wilson was the de facto President for almost two years while Woodrow Wilson was bedridden from a stroke and unable to do anything. Not the same thing as the first elected female president, but a woman was running the country from the WH for the better part of two years.

            Reply
    4. LBK

      Ugh, that sucks. I’ve been keeping my mouth shut about politics lately around everyone except for a few close friends. It seems each election just gets nastier as our culture drives the political parties to be more polarized, although there’s factions in this one that seem exponentially more divisive and vicious than the last.

      Reply
    5. neverjaunty

      You should probably go to your manager now rather than wait. You’ve asked them to lay off and they won’t, and they’re making sexist comments to you at work (only “mostly” happy hour, right?). These glass bowls should get it through their heads that “you are only voting for candidate X because of your gender/race/whatever” is not something to sling around at work, no matter how excited one is about one’s preferred candidate.

      Reply
    6. 42

      You can always tell them that there’s not retrospective data that supports women voting only with their genitalia. Historically, women have been voting for men since 1920.

      :-D

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        But see, it isn’t about the candidates, it is about women. Women vote for men because ‘dreamy.’ And for women just because they are women. Women can not win this argument and that is so like a woman.

        Reply
    7. Artemesia

      Wow. If someone said that to me I’d stare at their crotch and say, ‘hmmmmm, so that is how YOU decide your vote?’

      For most of these guys if Hillary were a man they’d be supporting her. Virtually every criticism of her is for stuff every politician does but somehow it is an outrage when she does it right down to raising her voice when campaigning. There is a great bit on one of the late night shows with Chris Mathews whining and mansplaining about how Hillary needs to learn to use a microphone — she doesn’t need to raise her voice. They then juxtapose clips of Chris Mathews ranting into the microphone and each of her opponents from Bernie to Ted Cruz doing the same — because uh that is what politicians do when they campaign, speak passionately.

      Reply
          1. Mike C.

            Though seriously, I’m one of those, “Seriously, you need to vote, even in an odd numbered year” type of people. It’s just really difficult when you have a bunch of small time offices that receive no coverage and have no opposition.

            Reply
            1. Lore

              My polling place is across the street from my house, it’s open from 6 am to 9 pm, and for reasons that I’ve never understood, my district never has lines (three city council/assembly districts vote there and the other two apparently have better turnout), so I really, really, really have no excuse. Still, last year’s election made it really difficult: 5 uncontested state Supreme Court slots (same 5 candidates on Democratic, Republican, and conservative rows. and note that in NY the Supreme Court is actually not the top level state court but the trial-level court of regular jurisdiction) and one county court judge, no ballot initiatives, and New York finally moved to scantron machines so you don’t even get the satisfaction of going behind the curtain and pulling the big ka-chunk lever.

              Reply
            2. Megs

              Low-information races are tough. As a lawyer, I’m way more tuned into judicial races than most people. Our state has a de-facto split system where appellate judges are appointed by the governor and then have to stand for election every six years (district court judges work the same way but it’s a bit more common to have genuinely competitive elections). We’re starting to see an issue where, in contested appellate elections, the incumbents (who are marked as such on the ballot) have been receiving a decreased percentage of the vote year over year for the last couple of decades, in spite of the fact that their opponents are uniformly grossly unqualified protest candidates. I would far prefer people not vote in those elections than go “guess I’ll vote against the incumbent because f-the man or whatever” or even “I guess I’ll vote for the female name because diversity is good” (sometimes yes, grossly unqualified nutballs no). Or, you know, you could ask pretty much any attorney you know who to vote for.

              Reply
              1. Mike C.

                Yeah, I believe our county/state bar associations give out “Qualified/Not Qualified” ratings so you can see who is and isn’t say an actual lawyer, but I really agree with you. The thought of judges having to worry about reelection is terrible.

                Reply
            3. Artemesia

              My husband and I just went through the long complex ballot for the judgships and water district poobahs and such for tomorrow and looked at ratings and picked candidates — it is really hard to know what you are doing on these long ballots. And I am a pretty politically engaged person.

              Reply
            4. Stephanie

              Yeah, totally. Extremist candidates like Trump aside, you could argue that those local races will have more impact day-to-day. It’s definitely the state legislators in my state that pass all the nutty laws.

              Reply
    8. anoning

      I’m sorry you’re going through that. I’m experiencing something similar with people at work who assume that because I’m a woman I’m going to vote for a candidate of the same gender and say I’m not a ~real feminist~ if I don’t. And like you, I’ve been avoiding going to lunch with these people because I do not want to get into a long discussion about it or hear about how wrong I am or how I’m betraying my gender. It’s exhausting and reminding me why, despite my love of talking politics, I shouldn’t do it at work.

      Reply
      1. Random Citizen

        Agh, yes! I hate when people assume that I do or would support Clinton because she is a woman. Incidentally, I am not a Clinton supporter, but I am very interested in this election cycle and have spent a lot of time combing through candidate’s policies, backgrounds, and plans for their presidency, and my decision has nothing to do with electing the first woman, Hispanic, Jewish, etc. president. It’s frustrating when someone assumes I’m making this decision on such a… shallow? basis.

        Reply
    9. ted mosby

      I’m a woman and I don’t support Hillary, but I am SO sick of hearing this argument. I can say the SAME thing about you for literally anyone else you’re supporting… but of course men don’t support men because they’re men. They support them because unlike women, they are the REAL candidates.

      The attitude is basically “we belong here, you’re just diversity.” The same thing happened with BO

      Reply
  2. INTP

    I’d like to add a very specific pet peeve – do not complain about how much it will cost you in taxes if a specific candidate is elected to people several rungs below you on the ladder or who make a fraction of what you make. The temp who only receives healthcare because of Candidate X doesn’t care how much Candidate X’s tax scheme will cost you because you make over $250k/year. (True story, the day after Obama was reelected, a technical department manager whined about the ramifications to his personal finances to the receptionist and me, the most junior employee there. And this isn’t the only time a person making literally several times what I make has expected me to be understanding about the unfairness of their taxes. Ideally keep your whining at home, but if you can’t, keep it within your own tax bracket.)

    I personally am a fan of just not discussing politics at work at all unless politics are a part of your work. It makes people feel alienated, it makes people have difficulties working together when they discover coworkers hold positions they abhor, it makes people feel censored when told their opinion is offensive when others’ are not, etc.

    Reply
    1. Librarian of the North

      +1
      I live in Canada and we just had large elections of our own. My in-laws are of the top one percent and we most definitely are not. For the last year every single time I see my mother in-law she complains about the Liberals raising her taxes because she assumes I voted for them. What I can’t seem to get her to understand is that, while they just paid cash on a new house, the day before payday I’m saying a prayer that I have enough gas to get to work. I do not care at all if their taxes go up 5% and maybe she can only travel out of the country 6 times this year instead of 10 if it means more tax breaks for people like us.
      “Keep it within your own tax bracket.” Yes, yes yes!

      Reply
      1. Cath in Canada

        After the last BC election, there were literally gloating millionaires on my Facebook feed (my husband has a couple of very wealthy friends). It was a critical election for my husband’s industry, and we were genuinely worried that the result would affect us to the point of having to sell our house. So seeing millionaires being very very bad winners about the whole thing, interspersed with their usual posts about their super fancy renos to their super fancy houses / high-end vacations / new sports cars, was not fun.

        (The sudden drop in the value of the loonie mitigated the impact of the election result on my husband’s industry, thankfully!)

        Reply
    2. Mike C.

      Nine times out of ten they also don’t understand how marginal tax rates work and assume that by getting a raise you’ll lose money.

      it makes people feel censored when told their opinion is offensive when others’ are not, etc.

      I really don’t have a problem telling others to stop with hate speech, even if they cloak it in “political discussion”. Not everyone is comfortable doing this, but there’s a pretty bright line between tax policy and “all members of a group” are “terrible thing”.

      Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        Yepppp.

        I have known people who hold both of these ideas in their head at the same time:

        “(MyParty)’s politics aren’t racist.”
        and
        “Someone called me on my racist remark, therefore they’re criticizing me for being a (MyParty).”

        Pick one. You can’t have both.

        Reply
      2. INTP

        I don’t have an issue with it personally, but for the workplace specifically, I don’t think it’s productive to have employees that feel like they are being unfairly censored or discriminated against, however fair or unfair you’re actually being. Perception is reality as far as how it affects morale in the workplace. Hence why I think it’s best to just avoid it altogether – there is no way to police it in which no one feels they’re being targeted and talking politics is more likely to make employees hate each other than like each other more. People who want to opt-in to political discourse with their coworkers can always go to lunch together or meet outside work to do it.

        Reply
      3. SusanIvanova

        I wonder sometimes if the people who believe that are thinking of people at the bottom of the income scale, where getting any sort of improved income *can* cost them money – a raise of $X will cost them something > $X in benefits. I’ve known people who had to consider whether that tradeoff was worth it – taking this raise that loses money, in the hopes that they’ll get the experience to move onto another job which will bring them back up to where they were before.

        It really sucks. Nobody should have to do that kind of math.

        (I know about marginal tax rates because of Nero Wolfe – all that talk about how at the end of the year he’s less likely to take on a job? All due to marginal taxes.)

        Reply
        1. Mike C.

          Whenever I hear it, it’s always from someone who is far, far too wealthy to qualify for such benefits. I’m always thinking to myself, “you have an accountant, ask them if you don’t believe me”.

          Reply
          1. SusanIvanova

            I hear it too much from the people who never will have to worry about it, but are convinced that someday they *could* be that rich, if it weren’t for everyone keeping them down.

            Reply
          2. Artemesia

            I bet 90% of the American people do not understand marginal tax rates. I run into people all the time who think ‘well small business people don’t work harder because if they make more money, they will actually take home less.’ And yet the time this country was most productive economically was when we had the highest marginal tax rates and it was when working people were seeing dramatic improvements in their standard of living/income.

            Reply
    3. Anxa

      Oh yes.

      I have bounced around a lot between being hurt by and helped by the aca. In the end it has made my life worse, but I do feel uncomfortable when people w employer insurance and full time jobs complain about a tax increase or hypothetical problems instead of things while dismissing my need for healthcare

      Reply
    4. aebhel

      Yeah, basically don’t complain about money to people who make a lot less than you. It’s tacky and insensitive.

      Reply
    5. Doriana Gray

      I personally am a fan of just not discussing politics at work at all unless politics are a part of your work. It makes people feel alienated, it makes people have difficulties working together when they discover coworkers hold positions they abhor, it makes people feel censored when told their opinion is offensive when others’ are not, etc.

      All of this, but especially the part about not being able to work with certain people once their beliefs are revealed. I know there’s one guy in my office who won’t quit talking about politics, and he supports a disgusting piece of waste, so now I associate him with that same trash. I’ll work with him because I have to, but I won’t deal with him outside of forced assignments.

      Reply
    6. I'm a Little Teapot

      SOOO much yes to your first paragraph! I have little enough self-control when it comes to this kind of thing that I will actually point out the difference in our incomes. They look so stunned and embarrassed when I do.

      Reply
  3. Adam

    I’m pretty thankful that my workplace knows it’s for the best to keep political talk to a minimum. If people were to discuss politics it would likely slant in one direction, but as a registered independent who isn’t exactly pleased with either side this year that wouldn’t bother me much.

    Now if only I could turn of Facebook for like a year…

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth West

      I have been blocking stuff on Facebook, but I turned on the news last night because we had severe flash flooding in our city. In fifteen minutes, I saw no less than five political ads. And it’s only March. :( Back to the internet, I guess.

      Our primary is tomorrow and though I almost never do this, I’m planning to go vote (bet you can’t guess why LOL). So I need to check on how to manage that at work because it WILL make me late.

      Reply
      1. KR

        Polls are usually open from 7am to 8pm from what I’ve been reading. Also, I would check with your state laws because some states mandate that your work allow you the time off to go vote, whether that means calling in for the day or arriving late/leaving early. I can’t speak for any of the other candidates, but the Sanders campaign will often find you transportation to your voting location if you can’t get there for some reason.

        Reply
          1. Megs

            And god forbid you live in a caucus state… here you were only guaranteed a vote if you got in line during a one hour time-frame. I know more than one person who didn’t vote because they couldn’t find parking/couldn’t wait in long lines/take that very specific time off work/etc. I really think that the outcome of our state’s vote may have been different if the caucus set up didn’t disadvantage people with irregular scheduled jobs/kids/disabilities. I’m hoping this leads to a push for a presidential primary here, because caucuses are nice for strictly party business, but no good if the goal is accessibility for people who just want to vote for president.

            Reply
      2. Mike C.

        In the future, look into absentee voting. In many states, you can sign up with no “excuse” and have the ballot mailed to your home. I’ve been voting since 2000 and have never seen the inside of a voting booth.

        Reply
        1. Adam

          Permanent absentee here, and it’s awesome. I don’t even remember doing it intentionally. It just sort of happened. It also serves to make you want to avoid the guilt of not-voting as it makes the process so simple.

          Reply
        2. Natalie

          Oh, good reminder! My state just started no-excuse absentee last year (prior to that you needed to fit one of a handful of allowed reasons). Maybe I’ll vote absentee this year!

          Reply
          1. Mike C.

            There is nothing better than sitting down at home when you want with whatever research materials you want and filling it out as you see fit. This is especially useful in WA because we have an initiative system and some of them get really complicated.

            Reply
            1. Kelly L.

              Cool! I usually end up making myself a cheat sheet to take into the polls when the ballot is absurdly complicated–I hate getting in there and not remembering whether Proposition A is secretly horrible or if that’s Amendment A, or if I meant to vote for John Smith or Joe Smith for county auditor. Absentee voting sounds great for that,

              Reply
            2. Adam

              “This is especially useful in WA because we have an initiative system and some of them get really complicated.”

              Whew. So it’s not just me.

              Reply
            3. Callie

              that is why I LOVE Oregon’s vote by mail. I love sitting down with my ballot and doing research. And you can take it to a dropbox on voting day, if doing things ON VOTING DAY is a big deal for you.

              Reply
            4. Jillociraptor

              Totally the same here in CA. It took me 3+ hours to fill out my absentee ballot because of all of the ballot initiatives. I really appreciate that I could just sit down, do research, and submit my vote all in the same afternoon.

              Reply
        3. Oryx

          My ballot came in the mail with a “I voted by mail” sticker. I’ll probably wear it tomorrow since that’s when my state’s primary is

          Reply
        4. Ms. Didymus

          My whole state votes “absentee” and it is great. The ballot comes in the mail, I take an evening and sit down to do my research, fill out my ballot and drop it in a drop box the next day. I often finish voting weeks before an election.

          Reply
    2. F.

      You may not want to completely unfriend people on FB who espouse differing political opinions, but you do have the option of not seeing them in their news feed. I have a niece with whom I politically disagree on just about everything, but I can still visit her FB and see the latest about my grand-nephews and the other things going on in her life. We respectfully agree to disagree (with the key word being “respect”.)

      Reply
      1. Adam

        I don’t recall at the moment, but I don’t think I have ever actually unfriended people on FB, even though there are a few I probably could and people might understand why.

        I have made pointed use of the block button though, both due to politics and constant espousing of things I’d just rather not hear about.

        Reply
        1. chocolate lover

          I’ve unfriended people. Not specifically for political stuff, but my thought is, if I’m going to block/unfollow their news feed because I don’t care what they’re saying anyway, I may as well just unfriend them. That’s included a few distant relatives.

          Reply
        2. Adam

          *Correction

          I meant “unfollow”, not “block”. There is a difference. Don’t think I’ve ever had to block anybody, but I know plenty of friendly people who I don’t mind on the whole but have opinions/interests I can only take so much of.

          Reply
      2. Megs

        Amen to the mute button! I really do like the small handful of people I’ve muted, and I don’t even care if they’re supporting candidate X even if I’m supporting Y. The muting only happened because of a lot of “candidate Y is a monster who eats babies” kind of posts.

        Reply
      3. VintageLydia

        I usually unfollow as well but I did have to unfriend a family member because some of the racist things they said actually made national news (it was in and out of the news cycle pretty fast several years ago so if I told you their name now you probably wouldn’t recognize it unless you are a huge political or legal news junkie, but still, a pretty big deal.) Felt like I was taking crazy pills because my mom was the only one who saw where I was coming from and things are still rocky on that side of the family (due to other things, too, but politics the main thing.)

        Reply
  4. B

    I always tell people I do not discuss politics at work. If it is brought up, I excuse myself from the conversation, and I make sure never to mention anything about it. For me politics is too much of a hot button issue.

    Reply
    1. F.

      I do not discuss politics at work either. As an HR Manager, I cannot be seen to be taking sides one way or the other.

      Reply
      1. anonforthis

        Interesting! I’m in HR management as well….I definitely don’t seek out political discussions, but if I happen to be present during a “can you believe what candidate X did!” discussion within our department, I do join in a bit if it’s super recent or important news. My coworkers in HR know which way I lean but none of us get upset just because we disagree. We’ve got a fairly evenly-split group, too.

        Do you feel that you shouldn’t participate, even in a very general way, because someone may think that you’re taking certain employees’ sides, or because you feel that employees shouldn’t know anything about your political stance?

        Reply
        1. F.

          At work, I represent the company’s interests. Sometimes they align with my personal interests politically, sometimes they do not. I am there to work, not to discuss politics.

          Reply
    2. Simonthegrey

      This. I have some…unusual political views, and I work in academia but specifically I work with high school students taking college courses. I am very careful not to discuss my own politics OR anyone else’s, as I realize that mine are extreme, and also very personal. As a teacher I don’t want to unfairly influence my students’ views.

      Reply
  5. Clix

    Oh man. Worked with someone who could not stop. The problem was it was all controversial topics all the time. Why gays are pediphiles, why same sex marriage is wrong, why specific colors and religions of people should have this or that restriction… It’s a really difficult subject to broach at work. Everyone at my new workplace has an understanding of where others are at and tend to talk among those groups – and thankfully when people are discussing at work there haven’t been any really unfortunate things said about race or sexual orientation. That old place I worked was really in line with the same values and views as the coworker I was forced to sit beside. :)

    Reply
    1. Megs

      I worked on a project with a woman who would similarly spout off really offensive stuff like this all the time. One of her big bugaboos were children born out of wedlock, though she certainly Had Opinions about a lot of other things as well (she lost it so bad over the Cecil the lion thing that our project leader had to ask her to leave the room). We instituted a “nothing political” rule and I’m hugely glad I haven’t seen her on any project for months.

      I tend to agree that it’s better to just avoid politics and related controversial topics at work. My current project has engaged in some Trump bashing but not much more than that. Even that makes me feel bad, because (a) what if the couple of people not joining in are feeling excluded, and (b) what if they did speak up about it? Some things I’d just rather not know about my coworkers.

      Reply
      1. Random Citizen

        I didn’t meet my first real Trump supporter until a political meeting and it was honestly refreshing to have a face and a person to attach to it. We both spoke during the meeting (about Trump + other candidates) and I disagreed with him more than ever at the end, but it was a relief to talk about the issues in the open rather than just talking to other anti-Trumpers would be more than happy to agree with whatever insult I could sling. It was a good reminder to be civil and reasonable in disagreeing and realize that people do have reasons for their choices, even if I disagree with those choices.

        Reply
      2. Stranger than fiction

        Babies born out of wedlock?! She does realize that’s like 40% of all children born right? Even my staunchly conservative Christian mother realizes that.

        Reply
  6. HRChick

    This was such a problem at my last job that I had to file a complaint. My boss, instead of telling the bullies that they were out of line and they needed to knock it off, told them that I was sensitive so they needed to be nice to me. I am NOT sensitive. But, having to sit there being called a “libtard” and that if I were their kids, they would have kicked me out, etc etc for over an hour, I did leave work and cry, yes.

    Then I had to deal with “Don’t talk about anything serious with HRChick, she’s SENSITIVE” all the time.

    I left that job for a reason.

    Reply
    1. neverjaunty

      And you know how quickly these tools would have run crying to the boss if you’d responded in kind.

      Reply
    2. ted mosby

      “You can’t spend an hour of work time taunting your coworker with slurs against the mentally disabled, because she’s sensitive.”

      What the actual frog? It’s like telling them they can’t punch you in the face during work time because you’re kind of a wuss. This is totally inexcusable behavior either way; making it about you is nuts.

      Reply
  7. chocolate lover

    A colleague that I’m not generally social with recently insisted that she “really wanted to know” my thoughts on the current election (and at an event no less). I couldn’t fathom why, it wasn’t something I’d ever discussed with her, and it’s very obvious from anyone who’s ever met us that we wouldn’t share the same beliefs/values/support of same candidates. And she’s not someone you could ever have an intellectual conversation with on any topic, so it wasn’t discussion for the sake of intellectual debate. I made it very clear that I disagreed with some of her statements, but surprisingly, she took that in stride. In hindsight I wished I hadn’t answered her at all, especially when the political conversation started leaning towards religion, but that’s when I did hightail it out of there.

    Reply
  8. SCOTUS nerd

    There’s a pending Supreme Court case on the fourth question (“can your employer discriminate against you because of your political beliefs or your political activities outside of work?”). The Supreme Court heard arguments in January and is expected to issue a decision in the summer — although the Court could delay a decision in the case until the late Justice Scalia’s seat is filled..

    More info: http://www.npr.org/2016/01/19/463495547/an-employee-mistakenly-steps-into-politics-can-the-government-retaliate

    Reply
    1. Sue Wilson

      Well, no this has nothing to do with whether any (private) employer can discriminate, because they can absolutely discriminate against you. This case has to do with the government response to accidental politics, because it’s already settled law that the government cannot discriminate against you for political activity. Fascinating, nonetheless.

      Reply
  9. TootsNYC

    I still remember decades ago, when the owner of Domino’s pizza was outspoken on the subject of abortion, and there were people who were advocating a boycott of the chain.

    At work, I said something about pizza and mentioned Domino’s (only about pizza), and the intern scoldingly said, “Toots! I can’t believe you would say that sort of things! I’m shocked at you, I thought you were better than that.” It took me a couple of seconds to figure out what she meant.

    I stepped over to her and said, quietly, “You need to be careful with those sorts of comments to people at work. Number one, it’s not your place to tell me what to think. It’s even worse that you’re scolding me, and you’re the intern. And second, you are assuming that everyone feels exactly the way you do. That’s not a safe assumption–for all you know, I’m very anti-abortion, and if I were, I am exactly as entitled as you are to spend my money in a place that is in sync with your beliefs.
    “Or maybe I just like Domino’s pizza–and no matter what, I’m entitled to not be scolded at work for my personal beliefs, especially since *I* didn’t bring them up. This is work, it’s smarter to keep these sorts of politics and beliefs out of the conversation.”

    Reply
    1. Bwmn

      I think that this type of comment is actually even more relevant when you do work in an office that is genuinely “everyone supports X candidate/cause”. Even if your whole office leans generically to one side or one candidate, there are often adjacent issues or areas of concern where everyone doesn’t see it the right way. Whether it’s boycotting pizza or fried chicken places, whether or not to attend XYZ protest/rally, or in a primary whether candidate A, B, or C is actually most supportive for your perspective – there usually hits a point somewhere along the line where not everyone goes every way.

      In more general offices, my experience overall is that most people are more guarded and polite. Rather it’s been when I’ve worked at very specific cause-related nonprofits where you’re most likely to have a loud-mouth-step-in-it moment. I’ve never worked at Planned Parenthood – but I have worked at places where a situation like boycotting XYZ definitely happen at work and perhaps privately, but if you’re going out to dinner with mom and dad and they insist on Domino’s – that’s not the family fight you’re interest in. While other’s might make that a fight with their family/refuse to go to dinner/etc. – assuming everyone in your organization does or doesn’t approach that the same way is a problem.

      Reply
      1. LizB

        Yep. Not my workplace, but I do a weekly activity with an organization that is explicitly feminist, liberal, and LGBTQ+ friendly. One of my activity buddies accidentally started a very heated discussion by assuming that because everyone in the group is feminist/liberal/LGBTQ+ friendly, everyone would also agree with their position on a different progressive issue that had been in the news. Turns out that is very much not the case! Even within spaces where truly everyone is like-minded on certain issues, that’s no guarantee that everyone is like-minded on all related issues.

        Reply
        1. the gold digger

          And when you discover that someone who fits a demographic you think you understand, do not say, “But you’re so intelligent/well-educated/well-traveled! How can you think X?” – as if only stupid, uneducated people would hold your views. Assume that people you otherwise like might have good reasons for thinking what they do.

          Reply
          1. Random Citizen

            _”Assume that people you otherwise like might have good reasons for thinking what they do.”_
            +10000

            I have no objection to being disagreed with or to having a rational (even passionate!) discussion about differences of opinions (not generally at work, though), but we miss all the value of that type of intellectual conversation when the argument becomes “you disagree,” therefore “you are bad,” or “you are an idiot,” or “I no longer have to treat you or your ideas with respect.” We gain the most if we start with the assumption that we are dealing with reasonable people who have a good reason for what they believe, even if we disagree with their reasoning or conclusion.

            Reply
            1. ted mosby

              I think that’s why politics has gotten so ugly recently. I totally understand why people would hold some views other than mine, like with abortion or war. For many people they’re hard issues with no right answer.

              But racism and bigotry isn’t a political opinion or something that I need to respect.

              Reply
    2. Tommy

      I agree with most of what you said except for where you said you might actually like Dominos Pizza. Right there you lost me.

      Reply
      1. Doriana Gray

        Dominos used to be good though! At least it was when I was a kid. (Or maybe I just had wonky taste buds.)

        Reply
  10. KR

    I feel so lucky that all the people in our office have similar political views and lean to the same side of the spectrum. Me and my supervisor talk politics all the time, but there’s never any pressure to change anyone’s viewpoint or talk if you don’t want to. We actually have a very good white-board portrait of one specific candidate that we’ve left up for months now. As long as the public doesn’t see it and think we’re endorsing that candidate (government entity), there’s no issue.

    Reply
    1. blackcat

      You know, it could be that there are a variety of opinions, but those who disagree don’t feel comfortable speaking up. It’s really, really hard to know about these things, which is part of why keeping talk about politics (and religion) to a minimum is more often than not the right call.

      Reply
      1. Adam

        Agreed. While I’m not looking to discuss those things at work anyways and think most of the time it’s not particularly appropriate to do so, there is a little urge in my head that tells me it’s better to not start a discussion there, no matter how innocent, as it’s much better to avoid making things awkward.

        Reply
      2. IndieGir

        +200000000

        Don’t bet on the fact that everyone in your office leans your way. I worked in an office where everyone “agreed,” but in actuality, there were a number of us who would whisper our real thoughts to each other behind closed doors. This was necessary b/c a lot of folks in that office seemed to think that supporting anything other than a straight Democratic ticket made you a fascist (their words). It also made me very uncomfortable to be called on in a large corporate meeting to cheer for the election of people I had voted against. I sucked it up, but thought it very inappropriate.

        Reply
        1. CherryScary

          Yup. I am currently in one of those offices where I (and actually most of my small team) are politically very different from the rest of the company. Those who are in the majority are very vocal about their support for that party’s candidates and some of their values, but I very rarely say anything about where I stand.

          Reply
        2. aebhel

          Yeah, my dad has that problem (on the opposite side of the political spectrum), as he’s worked at a defense contractor for decades and has several family members in the military, and people…assume things about his politics that are the opposite of true.

          Reply
        3. F.

          “lot of folks […] seemed to think that supporting anything other than a straight Democratic ticket made you a fascist”
          That is why I tend to avoid political discussion here in AAM.

          Reply
      3. Sydney Bristow

        This is exactly what I think. My coworker likes to talk politics and we feel similarly but I’m always concerned that someone nearby has different views and is uncomfortable. I try to change the subject or talk about it generally without encouraging further conversation.

        Reply
      4. LibrarianJ

        Yes, this. My department leans very strongly one way, I fall somewhere in the middle depending on the issue, and my family leans heavily the opposite way. It is beyond uncomfortable to sit through lengthy political conversations where universal agreement is assumed, moreso when conversation turns from discussion of the issues to sometimes-hateful language about the other side. Even if it doesn’t apply to me, it’s uncomfortable to sit through knowing that it does apply to my loved ones. Because everyone takes such joy in the discussion, I’m pretty sure that even politely asking to avoid politics would ‘out’ me as something I’m not. I don’t want to deprive folks of that intellectual discussion, but I wish they would not conduct it at length in required meetings or other situations where it’s impossible to disengage without being noticed. I assume (or rather, hope) that my silence is just being read as shy agreement. People tend to get into a mindset with politics where everything is so polarized that we assume that nice, intelligent people must all think the same way we do — if they didn’t, after all, they’d look like the radical stereotypes that always seem to make the news — , but that’s not always the case and it creates a very uncomfortable environment for anyone who disagrees.

        Reply
    2. alter_ego

      You know, my boss would probably say the same thing. He’d be wrong. But he’s my boss, and I’m not going to speak up when he says things that I disagree strongly with on a personal and moral level. I’m just going to turn the volume up on my headphones and hope he stops having the conversation right next to my cubicle while wondering how I managed to find the one workplace in my entire city that has the opposite views of most of the people who live here (including me).

      Reply
    3. KR

      You all bring up very good points. My team has filmed every presidential candidate except Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton (though we did film Bill Clinton) with an emphasis on not showing any bias toward any one candidate (government employees filming public access media). Most of the time they initiated the conversation and offered their own opinions of the candidates as they were editing the footage or coming back from filming. Our primary is over in this state, but I’ll make sure I keep this all in mind if the topic comes up in conversation.

      Reply
    4. Interviewer

      “All the people in our office have similar political views …”

      No. They do not. Some of you do, and you’re the ones who talk about it out loud, but I guarantee there are some who do not agree with you. They are there for a paycheck. They may have an interest in politics, but you have not managed to hire and retain a group of like-minded people on political issues in your government entity’s office. Guaranteed.

      Speaking of which, that white-board portrait should come down, stat. Someone who politely listens while you all discuss this will be very thankful.

      Reply
      1. KR

        See the above comment… they all brought it up themselves before knowing my political values and before the portrait was put up. I actually initiated very little of the conversation other than asking them how the events went in an attempt to be cognizant of differences in opinion. Most of our other employees are rarely in the office at the same time my supervisor and I are, and all of the political conversations I can recall between my supervisor and me happened when we were alone in the office. Thank you though, I am now more aware and I will keep this in mind.

        Reply
  11. Pokebunny

    I like reading news about politics and generally keeping up with what each candidate does. I just never talk about it to others because it’s such a hot button issue.

    Thankfully my colleagues don’t seem to talk about those either. I have no idea who is voting for who at my work. The most political thing we talked about was the other day when the primaries were on in our state and how we hope people would go out and make their voices heard.

    Reply
  12. dr_silverware

    I ran up against this on the other side. Just heard secondhand that a colleague of mine is pro-Trump, and now I wish that when my friend said, “do you want to know this thing about this guy?” I had said “noooo.”

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth West

      Same thing here. I found out inadvertently that someone likes Trump–“He speaks his mind!” I have not engaged but I’ve pretty much lost all respect for that person. :\

      Reply
      1. Random Citizen

        I thought my eyes were going to fall out of my head the day I saw a friend I deeply respect defending Trump on Facebook, only to later discover that he’s not actually a Trump fan, but was just pointing out that some of the criticisms against him (Trump) are flawed. And that’s very much a thing this friend would do – if we’re going to have a debate, it’s not going to involved name-calling or inaccurate criticisms, and he was opposed to the real Trump, but felt fighting a strawman version was unfair.

        Reply
          1. Elizabeth West

            It made sense. :)

            I could probably accept that, and it might even lead to an interesting discussion on rhetoric from both sides. But the remark I quoted above is indicative of the problem supporters–it gets bandied about by the worst of the lot. Whether she actually agrees with everything he says was immaterial. Hearing that exact phrase; well, I couldn’t help but think she probably does, because the meaning behind it has typically been “He’s saying what I want to say.”

            I still say hi and and friendly, but I feel very eh now. I haven’t mentioned it and don’t plan to.

            Reply
              1. Random Citizen

                Totally agree (on the edit button and the political commentary :)). I was commiserating over the potential loss of respect someone incurs in my mind when they support Trump for the same reason he freaks me out (although mine turned out fine, thankfully). I probably wouldn’t bring it up either in your situation, although there are so many things I would want to say (reasonable things! insightful things! right?).

                Reply
              2. Random Citizen

                And on those lines, it’s not _per-say_ an issue of disagreeing with what he says (although I don’t like it), my biggest concern is that someone who wants to be the leader of our country thinks he can go around saying whatever he wants, that he can insult and demean the people who disagree with him – whether they are private citizens, political opponents, or other world leaders. That scares me, and the fact that that precise thing is the reason so many people are voting for him scares me even more.

                Reply
        1. Faith

          I defend Trump a bit, although I don’t really care for him. I just hate inaccuracy. But then I hate having to add ‘I don’t really care for him’ as a disclaimer because otherwise people make assumptions about me.

          Reply
      2. neverjaunty

        I find that if you tell those people “Great, so you’re cool with me speaking MY mind about my opinion of you?” they suddenly lose their taste for radical honesty. :P

        Reply
  13. Long Time Reader First Time poster

    Funny story about politics at work — I once worked at a company where the owner was a hardcore supporter of one side of the aisle. But everyone else that worked there was totally in the other camp. We all tried hard not to talk politics at work, but then we landed a gig doing TV spots for a controversial senate candidate (on the boss’s team) during a tightly contested election.

    NOBODY wanted to work on that project! A few people (myself included) managed to dodge it, but we were all there on the days we were shooting with the candidate and his campaign people took over the office. Super awkward.

    Candidate was a bit of a rockstar type, and we found out later that his feels were totally hurt that everybody was just sort of cool around him instead of acting like crazed groupies every time he entered a room. The boss, of course, made up for it by totally sucking up to him the whole time… good times!

    Reply
    1. KR

      When Donald Trump spoke across the street from our gov. office, one of his aids came rushing in one day looking for an unattended computer minutes before the speech was to begin. Being IT, computers are my business so I asked him if he needed anything and he said that he needed to urgently print something for “Mr Trump.” We’re generally supposed to try to help the people who rent out our town hall and as a government employee I’m not supposed to be biased, so I managed to convey fake concern and help him print out Trump’s notes for the speech. Everyone teased me for the rest of the day. It’s not my best moment, but it was a great moment of customer service for me and I’m proud of myself for biting my tongue and not telling him Trump could eat shit for all I cared.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        You did the right thing and you should be proud of yourself – denying somebody access because of their political candidate would have been wrong, no matter the candidate.

        Reply
  14. anncakes

    I’m a political junkie but never, ever, ever, ever talk about politics at work. Ever. It’s just asking for trouble. It’s hard enough to handle my in-laws being insulting and trash-talking my ethnic group, immigrants (I am one), and my political affiliation. To create those kinds of issues at work would be unbearable. Most of my coworkers happen to be completely apathetic and have very little knowledge of politics, so it doesn’t come up a lot. The other day, though, some of the older ones who are more interested in politics were talking about the primary and were being rather insulting about my chosen candidate. They all seemed to be Trump supporters of one stripe or another, though one was saying she’d only vote for him out of party loyalty. I just sat there and focused on what I was doing, but, yes, it did affect my opinion of them and made me feel even more like an outsider. If I had otherwise felt included in this workplace, it would’ve been less of an issue, but bringing up politics can exacerbate these kinds of problems. This is one of the many reasons why I just keep my mouth shut.

    Reply
  15. Middle Name Jane

    I hate politics in business and social settings. My political persuasion is not what people expect, and people in social settings have gotten a bit nasty with me because I don’t support the party they think I should be supporting. I hate how people make assumptions about your politics based on your gender, age, education level, etc.

    I keep my mouth shut after getting burned in the past. And I’ve never discussed specific political issues or candidates in the workplace.

    Reply
  16. Quillotine

    Fun incident, which I realize is very much not the norm.

    I’m part of a two person department. We have very separate duties, tastes in music, and politics. You’d think we wouldn’t get along, but we mostly do. Last week I ended up on some sort of robocaller list for Donald Trump where the recording of a young woman asked me “Can you see Donald Trump as my next president. Press one for yes, two for no.” Pressing two for ‘no’ makes the phone tree seize up and start the recording over again.

    I thought it was funny and passed the story on to some of the people in the neighboring unit, since it seems very in-character. We laughed and my department-buddy pipes up and says he can’t wait for Trump to become president because it’s going to ‘shake things up.’ I tell him I disagree, but share some of my frustration regarding the democratic side of things.

    At this point, one of the younger people (not that much younger) pipes up that they doesn’t follow ‘any of that stuff’ because they’ve never voted or registered to vote and both of us just turn and LOOK at them. Turns out there is at least one common ground between your average conservative republication and liberal democrat; frustration with non-voters.

    Reply
  17. Stephanie

    Oof. I wish my coworkers wouldn’t talk politics. I’m pretty much on the opposite side of everyone I work with and just ignore it when they start talking politics (headphones come in handy). Unfortunately, sometimes they’ll be like “Stephanie, what do you think? You’re too quiet over there!”

    Reply
    1. Simonthegrey

      Once, once, someone asked me that at work (my office is probably split about half, although those of us who work here don’t generally discuss politics. This was in my tutoring job, and it was a student asking me. My one-word answer was “guillotines.” The student didn’t get it (not even sure if they heard me), but it was out before I could stop myself. That’s why I try to steer clear.

      Reply
  18. Kelly

    I think that public sector workers have to be even more careful than those in the private sector. There’s often a disconnect in opinions and views between public sector workers and the politicians at the city and state levels. Look at Wisconsin and the effects of Act 10.

    On the other hand, I think that Karen Lewis and the activist wing of the Chicago Teachers’ Union should be grateful that Scalia passed away. There was a case before the US Supreme Court that would have been the final blow against public sector unions. I do think that they are necessary but not if they can’t work together with their local politicians and become part of the problem by creating more road blocks. Public unions are on life support in this country and the Chicago Teachers’ Union quarrel with the city of Chicago is doing them more harm than good for the public perspective.

    Reply
  19. OlympiasEpiriot

    My lunch gang has “the 30 second rule”. Anyone can call and end to any topic for any reason in 30 seconds. I just did today with the various events of the last weekend. We actually are all pretty aligned this election, but I am just exhausted and overwhelmed and the way the campaigns are going is adding to that in a big way. I just didn’t want to hear a recounting of anything. We’ll get the onslaught on Wed after the next primaries. I need sleep before then.

    And, I’m really political, but I’m tired. It is not just about here. We’re an international group of people. There’s lots of issues that personally touch people here. I’ve got no sympathy for feels over our primaries when someone I know has lost a family member in the bombing in Ankara.

    Reply
  20. Kate M

    I actually love that I work in politics because I get to talk politics at work. Don’t get me wrong – I work at a very bipartisan firm (we have people here who have worked for both previous Presidents), but everyone can get along very well. Half our staff meeting this morning was about the presidential election and what we thought would happen. It’s always a very intellectual conversation though, not really based on personal leanings. That’s one thing I do actually appreciate about DC – it’s not what you’d expect, but most people on opposite side of the aisle actually respect each other and can work together (other than the actual politicians). It’s when I go back to my home state or something that it gets more vitriolic.

    But yeah, generally and in any other situation, I’d steer clear of politics at work.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      This is how I feel as well. I know you need everyone to not be a complete jackass but when it happens it’s quite refreshing. I find it really depolarizing to be perfectly honest.

      Reply
    2. Anansi

      I work in politics too and overall I agree with you that people on the opposite aisles respect each other. However, I do have to say that this election has been brutal in terms of infighting between the parties. I have a couple of coworkers who very outspokenly support a particular candidate and they rant about how anyone who does not support their candidate is wrong/a bad American. I’m not sure if they don’t realize that not everyone in our office supports the same candidate, or they just don’t care.

      Reply
  21. JAM

    I started at my last job literally the day after the 2012 Presidential election. I was working in election support before that and still in government and during office intros my boss kept trying to get me to share my political leanings with coworkers to “bond”. I finally told her between offices that my last job had required me to be politically neutral (when actually it was the opposite!) so I didn’t appear biased and she stopped asking me but then told everyone they could try to convert me since now I was free of the tyrannical rule of my last office.

    My current employer actively seeks out politicians to come work for us and there are definite political leanings that vary by department but overall people are much better behaved.

    Reply
  22. Kyrielle

    I’m not even discussing politics much on Facebook this year. I’m just…done. Tired. Flat. It sure doesn’t belong in the average workplace, especially not the current level of strife and meanness. (Even when the candidates don’t, sometimes supporters do. Which is even more infuriating when it’s “on behalf of” a candidate you support than when it’s “against” a candidate you support, actually, IMX.)

    I’m so glad that we aren’t discussing it much at the office. We’re discussing, you know, the improvements needed for teapot spout quality, and what thickness of handle is best for ease of lifting vs. strength of the handle, and whether Fergus’s vacation is going to mean we need to shift people around to get those lid designs done in time.

    (Obviously, I do not work in a job that is heavily defined by its politics.)

    (Also, darn these standard references here, now I’m hungry for chocolate.)

    Reply
    1. Simonthegrey

      I’m so done with it, but my husband is not just a fervent supporter of his Particular Candidate, but believes Said Candidate walks on water, cures the sick, will bring peace and prosperity, etc. etc. He was this way about Obama too. I’m a cynic (and more than a little tin-foil-hat about the collusion of money and politics). I love him, but if he goes to the subreddit for that candidate and reads me ONE MORE POST some days I just want to stuff his smartphone down his throat.

      Reply
  23. OlympiasEpiriot

    3 presidential elections ago, I hit on a topic everyone from any party could agree with…the campaign period should be no more than 6 weeks long. Like Australia, or lots of other countries. It was a great thing to deflect and find common ground with. Everyone gets exhausted.

    Reply
    1. Kelly

      I could get behind that easily. I’m in Wisconsin and our reprieve from the presidential primaries’ ads ends tonight (unless you get Iowa or Illinois stations). I plan on shutting off my TV for the next 3 weeks to avoid them. Ads in the Senate race, Feingold v. Johnson part 2, have been airing since last fall, mostly paid for by third parties.

      Reply
    2. Kyrielle

      Yes please. I’d also love to collapse the primaries so they all happened within a shorter span, preferably the same day. I’m in Oregon, and I get extra-weary not only with the long set of campaign ads (paid, and informally provided by people talking about the candidates on my FB wall), but also with the “so and so is locked in” after a win in New Hampshire or Ohio or on Super Tuesday or whatever.

      I don’t like the feeling that my vote in the primary matters less than my aunt’s vote in the primary because of the state I live in. And I can only imagine how people in June 7 states (or the District of Columbia!) feel – they’re even further down the list, and the only one with enough delegates to still be courted in anything but a tight race is California.

      Reply
  24. Master Bean Counter

    I miss working in local government. Campaigning of any sort was forbidden on county property. Cut way down on the election talk.

    Reply
    1. KR

      That’s so interesting where different municipalities have different policies. Candidates often rented out our town hall space in the weeks leading up to our state primary for campaign speeches and events. We also filmed all the speeches we could get in to for our public access TV station – though we we noted very prominently that the TV station didn’t support any one candidate and we were just filming for the interest of the public. The key for us was that no one candidate could get special treatment. They all had the opportunity to rent out the town hall if they so chose.

      Reply
  25. Lia

    I am an avowed political junkie and I almost never discuss politics at work. I know the leanings of most people here, but few of them know exactly mine, and I prefer to keep it that way. That said, I do volunteer, and I’ll bring up that I was canvassing or phone banking or whatever, but never which candidate it was for.

    Reply
  26. Disgusted

    Why am I not surprised that the only negative comments about any candidate in this forum are from people who are against Trump? I also found the comment about being happy that Scalia died to be absolutely disgusting. So much for civil discourse and respecting others’ points of view. And some of you wonder why people do not discuss politics in the workplace!

    Reply
    1. Not me

      The first conversation here is about Hillary Clinton, and it’s not glowingly positive.

      If you want to be upset, go for it, though.

      Reply
  27. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

    How to talk about politics at work: Don’t, unless you’re discussing legislation that directly effects your field (I know (for example) schools can be fairly political places because so much policy applies directly to the teachers- I’d be a little concerned if they didn’t have opinions! My coworkers on the other hand, who just want to share their opinion the loudest… no.)

    Reply
  28. Lisa

    For me, talking politics at work has made me feel closer to even the coworkers I disagree with. Our disagreements are on the table and I know when they’re judging me and vice-versa, rather than the coworker I only learned was very conservative after he left (which explained why he criticized a slightly edgy editorial decision I made). I wish he’d been willing to talk about his beliefs while we worked together so we could better understand each other.

    Reply
  29. asteramella

    Ah, election season. I’m essentially an anarchist, and thus I never talk about politics at work, because the majority of people find my views to be extreme. (I don’t advocate violence, but that’s what most people associate with anarchist views so…)

    I’m a very political person, but politics don’t belong at work unless you work in politics or are discussing a specific issue and how it concretely affects your employer/industry.

    Reply

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