Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Please don’t tell your employees for whom to vote

Have you read the story about a certain presidential candidate telling employers that’s it’s okay to suggest to their employees how to cast their votes in the upcoming election? Here’s the quote, via The Guardian.

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope — I hope you pass those along to your employees. Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.

Governor Romney is correct about one thing—it is not illegal for employers to talk to their employees about the upcoming election and suggest how to vote. Indeed, as Professor Paul Secunda points out at the Yale Law Journal Online, employers may be able to go so far as to “compel their employees to listen to their political views at such meetings on pain of termination.” According to the Proactive Employer Blog, “employers justify their actions countering that rather than controlling or coercing workers, they are simply educating them.”

There are some laws covering this type of conduct. The federal government criminalizes intimidation, threats, or coercion for the purpose of interfering with one’s right to vote one’s choice in a federal election. A few states (Michigan, for example) expressly prohibit employers from discharging or otherwise coercing employees to influence their votes in political elections. Ohio is not one of those states.

Legal or illegal, however, you need to ask yourself whether holding captive audience meetings to discuss political issues, threatening employees’ jobs, or mandating their attendance at political events is a valid business practice. How you answer the question of whether you think it’s okay to try to shape or influence your employees’ votes helps to define the kind of employer you are. Voting is an intensely personal choice. I don’t think it’s my business how my family members cast their votes. I certainly don’t think it’s an employer’s business how its employees cast their votes. Voting booths have privacy curtains for a reason. Exercise some discretion by not invading that privacy of your workers.