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The Workplace

Wed., Oct. 22, 2008, midnight

You joked to a co-worker that Sarah Palin is one hot VP candidate – but you missed the icy glare from the secretary as she listened to your comments.

And as you ripped on Barack Obama’s ability to lead, you inadvertently offended the black sales guy.

Talking politics in the office has always been taboo – even when the slate was filled with white men.

But this year’s presidential election, with its diverse mix of candidates, leaves employees vulnerable to being labeled insensitive – even discriminatory – if they launch into political rants.

“This national election presents particularly explosive and dangerous opportunities for employees to make inappropriate so-called jokes,” says Michael Blickman, a partner in the labor and employment section at Ice Miller, an Indianapolis law firm. “There will no doubt be cases where employees are accused of harassment or even discrimination because they failed to exercise basic common sense and good judgment. There may even be cases where employees lose their jobs because of their lack of sensitivity.”

Scary, huh? After all, rules in most employee handbooks don’t prohibit political discussions.

And shooting the breeze about elections in the office is, well, normal. In fact, 65 percent of workers say they are comfortable discussing political views with colleagues, according to a survey by the American Management Association.

So what is the best way to handle political discussions at work?

“The first rule of thumb is to certainly be sensitive to the fact that other people might have other opinions or points of view,” says Frank Horvath with the Newman Group, a human resources talent management consulting firm.

Avoid making bold statements to colleagues. If the discussion turns heated? Walk away.

“We all know political conversations are going to take place in the workplace, but when they start bleeding over into bad jokes or something that might be considered harassing, that becomes a problem,” Horvath says.

Indianapolis Star


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