Political affiliations in the workplace – what employers need to know

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Advocate Tertius Wessels | Legal Director | Strata-G Labour Solutions | mail me |


Navigating political affiliations in the workplace is a complex task for South African employers. 

There are valuable insights on this topic, emphasizing the importance of maintaining political neutrality to foster a harmonious work environment.

Labour laws & political expression

Our labour laws do not effectively deal with the issue of politics in the workplace. In terms of the constitution, employees do have a right to express certain political views. However, we need to appreciate that the workplace, unless it is a political party, is not a space for us to express those political views.

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but this must be balanced with workplace productivity and harmony.

Occupational & safety considerations

Furthermore, employers and employees are duty-bound to ensure safe working conditions, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which includes the overall well-being of employees. Political neutrality plays a crucial role in maintaining a safe and cohesive work environment.

Employers need to make it very clear to employees that we are effectively at the workplace to perform certain duties and responsibilities and work towards a common interest, which is the interest of the employer. We should therefore refrain from any conduct and/or behaviour that has the potential to be detrimental to the interest of the employer.

Importance of clear policies

To draw out the confines of what is and is not acceptable in the workplace is through clear and comprehensive policies.

If we do not define specifically what kind of conduct will be allowed and what will not be allowed, employees will have some form of uncertainty, especially when it comes to politics. Clear policies help prevent hostility and communication breakdowns that can affect job performance.

Social media conduct

Clear policies can also extend beyond the physical nature of work and into the digital realm of social media. The impact of employees’ political expressions on social media cannot be overlooked.

We’ve seen instances where employees go on social media whilst wearing company uniforms or still being affiliated with a particular company, expressing their views on a political party. This can cause suppliers, clients, or the public to question if the employer is associated with that political party. This behaviour can adversely affect the employer’s interests, making it crucial for companies to establish clear guidelines regarding social media conduct.

Freedom of association

As an employee you enjoy the freedom of association, even at your job, however, in the workplace, this liberty speaks to trade unions.

The onus again falls on employers to ensure that employees are aware of rules promoting political neutrality in the workplace, especially during politically charged times, as the one we find ourselves in presently leading up to the elections.

Political regalia & workplace policies

To further mitigate a potential political problem, employers can prohibit the wearing of political regalia to maintain neutrality.

Policy may prohibit an employee from wearing political regalia in the workplace. To circumnavigate outright bans, employers might provide company uniforms as the prescribed attire during working hours. This approach helps mitigate potential conflicts among employees with differing political affiliations.

Clear policies, consistent enforcement, and effective communication are essential for fostering a respectful and productive work environment. These create a workplace where employees can focus on their duties without unnecessary distractions. However, there is nothing in our laws that dictate the prescribed behaviour regarding political affiliation, having clear policies makes it easier for employees to know what is expected of them.


 



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