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Votes, Vibes, and Office Tribes: Handling Political Drama at Work

For those of us with a keen interest in politics, Christmas has come early. By Christmas, we of course mean the UK general election which is set to take place on 4th July 2024. The Labour Party (leading in the polls at the time of this publication) has published it’s Green Paper titled A New Deal for Working People which promises to ‘boost wages, make work more secure and support working people to thrive’. There’s a lot to unpack for businesses from potential free speech implications to a proposed overhaul of employment law – so what do employers need to know?

  • Labour have proposed a ban on ‘exploitative’ zero-hours contracts in an attempt to curb what they refer to as ‘one-sided flexibility’. Though zero-hours contracts and other similar working arrangements are by no means a recent phenomenon, they have become something of a hot-button issue in the employment sphere. While it is certainly true that zero-hours contracts can result in exploitation and unpredictable working patterns, many workers enjoy having the freedom to work multiple jobs and tailor their hours to suit their needs and lifestyle.
  • Controversial ‘fire and rehire’ practices will also reportedly be banned, preventing businesses from using dismissal and re-engagement as a negotiating tactic to change the terms and conditions of employment.
  • The right to ‘switch off’ is already common practice in many European countries. Labour plan to follow in their lead to ‘promote healthier working practices’ and ensure that employees don’t feel pressured to make themselves available for work 24/7.
  • The right to bring a claim for unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal, a right which only crystalises after two years’ service, will become a day-one right and the statutory cap on compensatory awards will also be lifted. This is perhaps the most eye-watering of the Labour party’s proposed reforms, as the financial burden on businesses and on the Tribunal system itself will no doubt be immense.
  • Finally, Labour have announced their intention to introduce a single status of ‘worker’ which will capture all but the ‘genuinely self-employed’, positioning this as a means ensuring that all workers recognise their rights and know the protections to which they are entitled. However, this broad-brush approach fails to appreciate that the workforce is not a monolith. Different people have different wants, needs, and aspirations – and that’s to say nothing of the fact that this approach is not going to be commercially viable for smaller organisations.

This is just an overview of the proposed reforms, with more information no doubt soon to come.

While the election isn’t won (yet) employers should still look to the future and consider how the proposals might impact their businesses and their staff.

From a practical standpoint, a general election can often ignite political debates in the workplace. Without a code of conduct policy that specifically addresses political speech, there is a significant risk of conflicts escalating between employees who hold differing views on contentious issues. To mitigate this, organisations should establish clear guidelines:

  • Workwear Policies: Companies should prohibit T-shirts displaying slogans or offensive language related to political views. This helps maintain a professional and respectful environment.
  • Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policies: Implement policies that explicitly address political discrimination. This includes unwelcome behaviour such as jokes, insults, or gestures related to politics. By doing so, organisations can eliminate any ambiguity and ensure that employees understand the boundaries.
  • Disciplinary Measures: Make it clear that any employee engaging in inappropriate political behaviour will face disciplinary action if necessary. Consistent enforcement of these policies is crucial.

Given the recent UK election announcement, ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, the US election cycle, and the Russia-Ukraine war, such policies are becoming increasingly more relevant.

Remember that fostering respectful discourse while allowing freedom of expression is essential for a healthy workplace environment.

If your organisation would like to discuss these issues further or another employment law matter, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Employment team.