3 reasons to avoid talking politics at work

It’s tempting to vent at work. Here’s why that’s a bad idea.

Movie director Ava DuVernay was hugging strangers at the airport on Saturday, and fighting back tears, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

TV writer Ariel Dumas, who works on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on CBS CBS, -3.08% , said (before apologizing), “Whatever happens, I’m just glad we ruined Brett Kavanaugh’s life.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of the brutal confirmation hearings that ultimately cemented a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court, millions feel the opposite. The president’s job approval ratings are up to around 44%, about as high as they’ve been since he took office.

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With the country so bitterly divided, and feelings running so high, it’s tempting to start venting in your workplace. Under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, federal agency employers are prohibited from asking political party preference questions of federal employees and applicants.

But what about when you’re comfortable in your job? Should you debate the issues of the day?

Here are three reasons why that could be a bad idea:

1. It could get you fired

Google GOOG, -0.18% software engineer James Damore learned the hard way last year that if you work for a private company you have few, if any, legal protections covering free speech at work. “In the private context, there is no… first amendment right” covering political speech at work, University of Chicago law professor Randall Schmidt says.

Furthermore, he notes, many political issues in America today involve hot-button identity topics such as race, gender, national background and sexual orientation. In many cases these involve specific groups that are protected against discrimination under federal law, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So arguments could raise — even inadvertently — accusations of discrimination or of creating a “hostile working environment,” which could be a violation of an official company policy.

In that instance employers might need to take legal action even if they don’t want to. There are two caveats, legal experts add. First, public sector workers may enjoy First Amendment rights, because their employer is the government. Second, you have some legal protections for discussing politics at work if it relates to your employment conditions. Companies that have fired workers for complaining about pay…

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