Personal viewpoints on the UK’s departure from the EU can vary greatly and these opinions can be held particularly strongly. As your client has experienced, differing stances on the topic can cause disagreements.
Your client can ban employees from Brexit talk during working hours or using company equipment to talk about it, for example, by using company computers to communicate with others on the subject. Your client is, however, unable to stop employees talking Brexit outside the workplace due to an employee’s right to freedom of expression and to a private and family life. As well as Brexit talk, your client should consider having a neutral dress code that bans political symbols and dresses such as t-shirts or badges which indicate a person’s particular allegiance.
Having a complete ban on Brexit talk may seem the safest practice however, in reality, it is likely to be difficult to enforce in totality. It can be a good step to train employees, or provide a reminder of previous training, about the right and wrong way to communicate with colleagues in the workplace. This can include reminding them to be considerate of other people’s opinions, not to react in a personal manner and what scenarios will be deemed as during the course of employment, for example, that working lunches will not be classed as employee’s private time so they should refrain from discussing Brexit then.
It’s also important to remind staff of how they should be using social media, both work, and private accounts, to avoid their political views bringing the company’s reputation into disrepute. A gentle reminder that this can be treated as a disciplinary matter should be sufficient to ensure this is not taking place.
Although managing Brexit talk is a priority, your client should recognise that employees are protected against being unfairly treated because of their political beliefs. Although difficult, employees may be able to prove that their political beliefs fall under the protected characteristic of ‘philosophical belief’ under the Equality Act 2010. Talking about political policies, for example, immigration targets could lead to conversations that have a racial edge to them. Employees will be protected against harassment on the grounds of race where these conversations violate a person’s dignity or create a humiliating or offensive environment.
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