In a diverse workplace, employees will share a range of political beliefs. While politics are an intrinsic part of daily life, political conflict can cause problems in the workplace, particularly if anyone holds particularly strong views. As such, some employers may decide that they want to consider an applicant's political beliefs before they make a hiring decision. Is this practice acceptable? Find out here.
Politics don't necessarily sit comfortably in a typical workplace. Strong political beliefs can influence the decisions that some people make at work, while conflict over certain issues can create a hostile working environment for everyone. As such, federal law allows employers to control political activity at work, which could even extend to a clear policy that outlaws political speech in the office.
While the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, the law does not generally offer protection to people for something they say or do at work because the Amendment largely applies to any actions the government may take against a worker. The First Amendment will normally only offer protection in the workplace for public employees.
What's more, federal discrimination laws do not protect people in the workplace against actions that an employer takes due to political beliefs. While federal discrimination laws protect people based on variables like age, gender, religion and sexual preference, an employer can theoretically still legally fire or hire somebody for their political beliefs. However, other restrictions or challenges may apply.
Some state laws make it illegal to discriminate against somebody based solely on political beliefs. These laws apply in California, New York and Washington. Colorado and North Dakota do not allow employers to discriminate against anyone who carries out lawful activity (including political activities) outside work. What's more some cities, including Seattle, have enacted further laws to prevent this type of discrimination, so companies should check local legislation carefully.
Of course, some companies also voluntarily include a clause that relates to political beliefs in their anti-discrimination policies. A broad policy like this often makes it easier for managers and recruitment teams to understand what is acceptable.
Assuming that you are not subject to any state or city anti-discrimination laws, employers can extend a ban on political activity in their workplace to influence their recruitment process. Of course, a credit check will not identify this sort of activity, but a criminal record check may reveal politically-motivated offenses. In this instance, a recruiting manager could legally turn down an applicant on the grounds of his or her criminal record, without needing to identify the political nature of the crime as a deciding factor.
However, if credit and criminal record checks don't reveal anything problematic, some employers may need further assistance to find evidence of political beliefs that are at odds with a company policy.
Social media background checks can sometimes expose other useful information. Social media background checks are legal in the United States, and the Federal Trade Commission allows companies to compile seven years' worth of data from online sources, as part of one of these checks. Other things to consider include:
- Background checks can only look at public data. If applicants have private accounts, a background check cannot access the content.
- Background checking companies do not store or look after data. Once they send you a report, they will delete their files.
- These checks look for specific problem content, which includes evidence of aggression or violence, racism and discrimination, unlawful activity or sexually explicit conduct. Political conduct that does not trigger one of these flags may not appear in the report.
- A company can only run a check using the contact information you supply. What's more, you must tell an applicant you plan to run this check.
Of course, within the constraints of this process, social media background checks can reveal information that can help you screen a candidate based on his or her political beliefs. Nonetheless, you should also have a clear and consistent policy about when and how you act on these data, as you may inadvertently contravene other discrimination laws. For example, an applicant could allege that you unfairly discriminated against a political belief about female pay rights on the grounds of sexism.
In many parts of the United States, private companies can make recruitment decisions based on an applicant's political beliefs. Nonetheless, you should apply these policies with care because it isn't always easy to make a fair and legal decision with the information at hand. For more information on your options, contact companies like PeopleFacts.