May 5, 2009

EARLIER, I referenced a discussion by Slate’s “Dear Prudence” columnist where people complained about over-politicized workplaces. Numerous readers wrote in on the subject.

Steven Den Beste suggested that, since these were nonprofits, employees could complain to the IRS about politicization. And another reader emails:

A friend in a state government agency brought an official hostile work environment complaint against a co-worker’s left wing political harangues and won- in a very liberal state, too.

A gay man in her office – call him “Andy” -drifted into an over the top political activism during the Bush administration. He festooned his cubicles with political posters and never stopped haranguing co-workers with all that was wrong with Bush, their republican governor, etc etc. She’d worked with Andy for almost a decade, so at first she just politely told him she wasn’t interested. Then she flat out asked him to stop. It kept getting worse, not better-an endless barrage of snide comments to her face and inbox full of e-mails of articles and cartoons from left wing publications. Next she complained to their boss. He did nothing, perhaps because as the appointee of the Republican governor he feared being labeled a homophobe should Andy take it to the press. At wit’s end she filed a formal complaint with the state employees’ union that her agency had become a hostile work environment.

It turns out a great many other people in the office – including some as liberal as Andy- found the “this cubicle is a hate free zone” sign above his nameplate highly unprofessional and Andy’s political obsession a major distraction. Once my friend took official action they backed her up about the facts behind the complaint, especially about how Andy wasted their time.

To the expressed relief of more than just my friend, Andy was ordered to tone down the posters, desist with the e-mailing/ copying of materials that had no relation to agency activities and to stop talking politics while on the agency’s clock.

Also, reader Nancy Gubka writes:

Leading up to last November’s election, I thought about filing a complaint with my company’s human resources department over “political harassment” – as in “creating a toxic work environment”. People have a right to their own opinions, but they do *not* have the right to leave their office or cubicle and invade a co-worker’s space in order to harangue them. I’m also not sure that they have the right to gather around the water cooler or other common space and spew leftist hatred and misinformation so that everyone around them is subjected to their thinking and derision.

I did mention it to one more mature co-worker and I think he passed the message on, because I’m not hearing/ seeing this sort of behavior any more. Sometimes it can almost pass as a form of sexual harassment when you have a tall liberal man repeatedly berating a shorter conservative woman.

In any case, I do think this behavior is something that HR professionals will have to deal with sooner rather than later.

Reader Glenmore Shelton, meanwhile, thinks it’s a mistake to complain:

Push back, act offended, and threaten litigation.

And you will quickly find yourself out of work and blacklisted. And unable to get any but a desperate attorney to take your wrongful termination suit on contingency. Apostasy will not be tolerated in the religion of Progressivism.

I’m not so sure, as illustrated above. And reader David Johnson emails: “Regarding your post on Slate’s ‘Dear Prudence’ letter that addresses political comments at non-profits, you might suggest that those afraid to respond in person could use sites such as http://www.annoyingcoworker.com/ or http://www.nicecritic.com/ . These sites allow you to get a message to the person doing the ‘offending’ activity in an anonymous manner. Used judiciously, these are great tools for correcting, ummmm, less desirable habits of coworkers discreetly. Could be good for this as well.”

Of course, it’s fine for people to talk politics at work, and I don’t think that people should be fired for doing so. But some people seem to want to talk politics instead of work, or to turn workplaces into political cliques, which is generally a bad idea. Most people will put up with it out of fear of confrontation — but, on the other hand, those who don’t will find that fear of confrontation works both ways, and that most people will avoid too much politicking if they think someone will complain and make their own experience even mildly unpleasant.

UPDATE: Another reader emails:

I work in New York City. The day after the election was surreal – everyone was so happy and convinced that all problems would magically disappear. They had an inauguration party in the cafeteria and everyone (except me) attended (I pretended I had a lot of work to do). I can guarantee they did not have a party when Bush was inaugurated. During the election, inauguration and since – it is simply assumed that EVERYONE is for Obama. This includes stories in our weekly emailed newsletter. I keep my opinions to myself because my boss is a very argumentative (think Janine Garafalo) liberal who does not tolerate dissent. She’s actually come running out of her office the day after Sarah Palin was announced as VP to go into a tirade about ‘that woman.’ I found it amazing since she had only been in the news less than 24 hours. Everyone just LOVED Tina Fey’s impression of the ignorant version of Palin. I love my job as long as we don’t talk about politics, but most of the time I just listen to Rush or read Instapundit, Hot Air or NRO when they’re not looking.

Ah, the joys of being subversive.

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