The General Election: employment considerations

With the general election just around the corner, below are five employment law issues for employers to think about:

Campaigning in the workplace

Employees are paid to work so an employer is perfectly entitled to stop them using their work time and company resources for political campaigning. Also, this might be a sensible move in any event, not just for productivity reasons, but it could help to minimise fallouts amongst colleagues over which political party should win. Any ban on campaigning in the workplace should be applied consistently to all employees to avoid any allegations of discrimination or unfairness.

Political beliefs

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from being discriminated against because of their religion or belief. The legislation is really aimed at protecting an employee’s philosophical beliefs (rather than their political ones). It is therefore unlikely that support for a particular political party will be covered by this legislation but a strongly held belief in a political doctrine (such as socialism or capitalism) might be.

To be within scope, the belief must be genuinely held, be a belief rather than an opinion or viewpoint, relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness and importance and be worthy of respect in a democratic society.

Employers should bear this potential protection in mind to avoid claims by employees that they have been treated less favourably or harassed because of their beliefs.

Social media postings

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the like are an embedded part of life for many employees and often strong views are expressed over social media without a great deal of prior thought. Employers would be wise to remind employees about what is and is not an acceptable posting in the run up to the general election, given the likelihood of disagreements over which party should win. This could help to avoid allegations of bullying made by colleagues or alienating business contacts who might not share the employee’s viewpoint.

Extreme views

Let’s imagine that an employee is seen by some of his colleagues campaigning for a party that holds strong racist views and as a result they feel very intimidated and do not want to work with him. Or perhaps customers have discovered his connection and consequently refuse to put any business your way while he is still working there. What can an employer do?

Well, they might have grounds to fairly dismiss the employee. However, caution is needed. Firstly, there are the potential discrimination issues to consider (see above for details of possible Equality Act protection) but it is unlikely that the employee’s belief would fall within scope (not least because it is not likely to meet the “worthy of respect in a democratic society” threshold).

Secondly, employees are protected from being dismissed because of their political opinions or affiliation. An employer would therefore need to be clear that the dismissal is not because of the employee’s membership or support of the political party with the extreme views but because of the effects that his association is having on his work. Otherwise, they could face allegations of automatic unfair dismissal (even where the employee has less than the two years of service that is often required for an unfair dismissal claim).

Time off to vote

Employees are entitled to take (usually unpaid) time off work for a number of reasons but to vote in a general election is not one of these. Employers can obviously use their discretion to grant time off work if they so wish but given that the polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm and employees who work more than 6 hours are entitled to at least a 20 minute rest break (and the reality is that most employers give an hour off for lunch), there is little reason to see why this would be necessary in the majority of cases.

This article first appeared in QuickBite magazine.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice.  If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.