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Greenville Business Magazine

Engaging In Politics At Work

Nov 30, 2017 09:43AM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Jason Zacher

A good quality of life starts with a good job. 

A good job comes from a healthy company.

Healthy companies are created, in part, by the business climate in a community.

South Carolina has a strong business climate, and that climate has contributed to the economic renaissance the Upstate has experienced in the past three decades.

Today, there are new social and political threats on the horizon for business. We’re in a period of political upheaval that most Americans haven’t seen since the 1960s. The fringes of our political parties are too often dictating our direction – the tail wagging the dog, so to speak. We are in an age when well-funded political action committees, special interest groups, and cheap digital ads inflame passions and poison conversations. 

That’s just at the national level. Locally, the Upstate is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. That rapid growth is stressing government services and infrastructure.

Over the past decade, the business community has seen labor, health care, and tax issues that have greatly impacted your bottom line. At nearly every Chamber meeting I attend, at least one business owner or manager complains about a new issue or regulation impacting them. I’ve written many times before on these pages about how business owners need to be involved in politics, but I’ve always focused on leaders getting involved in campaigns. 

With another election year around the corner, a lot of legislation will be proposed and a lot of promises will be made. Do your employees fully understand how these promises may impact their employer?

Business owners have the right to talk about politics with their employees. More companies should communicate clearly and rationally with their employees about the impact of public policy on their bottom line. Employers can discuss the impact of issues, ballot measures, legislation, and regulations. 

If the bottom line is black, a company can grow and create jobs. When the bottom line is red, well…

If you’re going to talk about politics at work, the guidelines are not clearly defined. Some experts believe that the Citizens United Supreme Court decision gave employers the right to require political activity by their employees, though I would think long and hard before adopting that kind of policy. 

Even if you don’t go that far, there are some common-sense rules you should follow. Educate, but don’t coerce.

You can communicate with your employees and their families about state legislation, regulations, or ballot referendums.

You should not direct the political activities of your employees.

You may encourage your employees and their families to support or oppose legislation, regulations, or ballot referendums.

You may not tell employees how to vote (that is a fine line that can be vetted by an attorney).

You may communicate your message to your employees using postal mail, advertising, direct mail, phone banks, or internal mail.

You may not put any political messages into your employees’ paychecks.

You can tell employees and their families about the impact a law, bill, regulation, or referendum may have on your business.

You may not reward or punish your employees for their political actions.

Certain activities are prohibited by law, so as with any labor law issue, when you plan to engage in this manner, please consult your legal counsel with specific questions.

The next time there is a major political issue that could impact your company, it is important to tell your employees what the impact may be. That first political contact might ruffle some feathers, but if you do it in a fair, educational manner, I’d bet your employees will appreciate it far more than they would if there are negative impacts down the road.