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This Minnesota Human Resources Manual is offered to you for free. Find state specific laws and regulations below.

Politics in the workplace — Minnesota


Every election year workplaces will experience an increase in political discussion amongst employees. Sometimes these discussions can get heated especially where coworkers have differing political views and outlooks. Employers have a real interest in addressing this subject because of the impact on their workers. The American Psychological Association reported that during the 2016 Presidential election, more 1 in 4 younger employees reported feeling stressed out because of political discussions at work, and more than twice as many men as women said political talk is making them less productive. Just what should and can an employer do to curb political discussion and activity in the workplace? This chapter aims to reveal just that.

Limiting political expression 

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution governs free speech rights. However, the First Amendment’s protections apply only to state action. Therefore, private employers have the ability to regulate political discourse in the workplace. And, while the First Amendment protections apply to public employers and protects public employee’s rights to free speech, even public employers can apply limitations that will ensure efficient operations. In addition, while some states have statutes that regulate free speech in the work place, Minnesota does not for private employees.

Therefore, Minnesota’s private employers are free to create and apply reasonable speech limitations to its workforce. In turn, Minnesota employers can discipline or discharge an employee for violation of workplace policies, as long as the policy is applied consistently to all employees. In most cases, employers should reserve discipline or discharge to instances where the employees conduct interferes with work activities or creates a disruption in the workplace.

Limiting political activities away from work

Minnesota does not have a statute that addresses an employer’s ability to limit off-duty conduct of a private employee with respect to political activity. Nevertheless, an employer must be very careful when regulating an employee’s off-duty conduct. 

In general, before considering a policy or practice that regulates an employees off-duty political speech, an employer must determine whether there is a legitimate business reason to limit the conduct. Examples of a legitimate business activity might include:

  • the companys reputation
  • disruption to the workplace and employee morale
  • potential legal liability to the employer because of the conduct
  • loss of business relationships related to the conduct.

Absent a legitimate business reason, employers can face claims of discrimination, or claims for invasion of privacy for trying to regulate non-work-related conduct. In addition, there is a specific Minnesota statute that prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for engaging in political activities.

Preventing political campaigning 

Non-solicitation policies

Generally, employers can require that employees refrain from activities, such as campaigning, or passing out political literature during their work hours, excluding breaks and meal time. Employers with non-solicitation policies may apply those policies evenly with respect to all areas of solicitation, including selling cookies for a child’s school fundraiser to soliciting for political purposes. Employers must be mindful of the NLRB’s protection of employee’s ability to protected concerted activity for their “mutual aid and protection.” These rules allow employees to generally discuss the terms and conditions of employment. Because the NLRA protects union-related activities (but not political speech), employers must take great care to distinguish the two when establishing a non-solicitation policy.

In Minnesota, during hours of employment, state employees are specifically prohibited by statute from directly or indirectly soliciting or receiving funds for political purposes, or using official authority or influence to compel an employee in the classified service to apply for membership in or become a member of any political organization, to pay or promise to pay any assessment, subscription, or contribution or to take part in any political activity.

Political dress, including badges and buttons

With respect to the restriction of employees wearing badges, buttons, or other political dress, and employer may establish a neutral dress code that prohibits the employee from wearing t-shirts or other types of clothing. However, with respect to badges and buttons, the NLRA would allow employees to wear badges or buttons that are related to a union or to unionization as long as doing so does not create a safety hazard, or impact another legitimate business purpose. In general, if an employee is wearing a political button that also includes a union message, employers should refrain from prohibiting that activity. Therefore, when considering a policy to regulate political speech and solicitation, employers should consider the following:

  • Applying a neutrally enforced policy that restricts solicitation only during work hours (not on lunch breaks or rest breaks), employers can refuse to let employees distribute or post political flyers at work.
  • It is a good idea to send out a reminder to employees of your policy in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
  • If an employer prohibits wearing political buttons or posting political posters, the company should be certain that the prohibition is followed absolutely.
  • Employers can ban political slogan buttons or T-shirts as part of a dress code policy, particularly for employees who come into contact with clients/customers.
  • The ban must be uniformly applied – if anyone, including the company president, wears a political election button, the ban loses its force, and an employee disciplined for violating the policy may have a claim for wrongful discipline or discharge, or even coercion, under state law.
  • Any embargo on buttons may not extend to union buttons worn during a union organization or election as this is protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), but more about that later.

Use of an employer's company equipment

Employer company equipment includes items such as bulletin boards, copy machines, telephones, and computer systems. While employees enjoy limited rights to solicit and distribute union-related materials on company property, an employee enjoys no such right with respect to use an employer’s equipment for union or other purposes, including political campaigning.

Employers who wish to control the use of their companys computer systems, including email, must have and regularly enforce an electronic communication policy that warns employees that the computer systems are company property and that regulates the type of discussion that can take place on a computer system. Through an electronics communication policy, an employer can limit the political discourse that takes place on its computer systems.

Practical steps to regulate political activities

Because political discussions can sometime get out of hand and wind up costing employees their careers, for those employers who do not attempt to shut down all political discourse in the workplace, there are very practical things that they can do to try to keep politics within bounds. These include:

  • Tell people to keep it lighthearted - Let employees know that it is perfectly acceptable to engage in political discussion, as long as they keep it as lighthearted as possible. Encourage non-confrontational questions, rather than discussions about hot-button issues where there is little to no middle ground.
  • Encourage a culture of respect - Regardless of whether the topic is politics, human rights, or sports team rivalries, every employer should focus on promoting a respectful workplace. Company leaders should model this behavior in how they communicate and interact with employees.
  • Train managers to diffuse hostile confrontations - Managers should be trained on how to address workplace confrontations. Especially when dealing with political questions, managers should be encouraged to redirect the conversation to the issues that impact work life, not personal life.
  • Foster an inclusive environment - Well in advance of an election season, employers should educate employees on the value and importance of having a diverse and inclusive environment. While dialogue may be encouraged, the office is not the environment for debates about personal values. If employees aren't open to hearing different points of view, they should refrain from starting or joining the conversation.

Paid time off to allow for voting

Minnesota law is very clear that employers must give employees paid time off to vote, requiring that “[e]very employee who is eligible to vote in an election has the right to be absent from work for the time necessary to appear at the employee's polling place, cast a ballot, and return to work on the day of that election, without penalty or deduction from salary or wages because of the absence. An employer or other person may not directly or indirectly refuse, abridge, or interfere with this right or any other election right of an employee.”

In addition, the law defines the concept of an election very broadly to include “a regularly scheduled election, an election to fill a vacancy in the office of United States senator or United States representative, an election to fill a vacancy in nomination for a constitutional office, or an election to fill a vacancy in the office of state senator or state representative.” If a Minnesota employer fails to honor the requirement to provide employees with paid time off to vote, it can be prosecuted by the county attorney and can be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

Asking employees to support political views

Under federal law, employers have some ability to ask its executive or administrative personnel who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and have policymaking, managerial, professional, or supervisory responsibilities to vote for or against a particular political candidate. This ability does not apply to the rank and file employees.