General Election 2024: Navigating politics in the workplace

Ahead of the General Election on 4 July, Antonio Fletcher, head of employment at Kent-based law firm Whitehead Monckton, shares his thoughts on how businesses in the South East can prepare for the future, encourage employees to vote while remaining impartial, and what employees should do if they feel they are being discriminated against for their political beliefs.

Are there any regulations, policies or laws about political beliefs in the workplace?

Yes, the Equality Act 2010 protects those who hold religious or philosophical beliefs from workplace discrimination. Case law has suggested that political beliefs can (but do not always) fall under the philosophical beliefs definition.

In order for a belief to amount to a philosophical belief, the following must apply:

  • It must be genuinely held
  • It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, and not incompatible with human dignity and/or conflict with the fundamental rights of others

Employers can set out rules in a policy so that employees know expected behaviour in the workplace when it comes to political conversations and symbols.

What should employers be doing to prepare for the upcoming General Election?

The outcome of the election may have an impact on legislation and employment regulations. Therefore, employers should ensure that they give due consideration to the potential changes to their existing workforce arrangements should there be a change in Government and what (if any) actions they may wish to take in determined circumstances.

Are employers allowed to ask employees who they’ve voted for? Why/why not?

Exerting undue influence over the way someone votes is potentially a criminal offence. Given the recognised imbalance of power in the employer/employee relationship, any such questions are best avoided so that there is no suggestion of undue influence.

How can employers encourage employees to exercise their right to vote without showing bias for a particular party?

By making it easier for their staff to head to polling stations. This could be through allowing flexible working by adjusting their hours, working from home (where possible) or allowing staff to take paid or unpaid leave.

Whilst there is no legislative right to allow employees time off to vote and polling stations usually open for longer hours to account for that, if it is the case that an employee informs that their working hours or other commitments will make it difficult for them to get to a polling station, then the above options should be considered. Again, the employer needs to be careful to avoid any suggestions of undue influence, however.

What can employees do if they feel they’re being discriminated against for their political beliefs?

They should raise a grievance in the first instance to allow their employer to investigate and try and find a resolution. If they are unhappy with the outcome, they can appeal the decision. They would need to show that their political beliefs amount to a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010 in order to pursue a claim.

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