When Employers Talk Politics

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 15, 2012In: Discrimination & Harassment

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Should an employer take a stance on political issues? This is a complicated question. On one hand, consider the negative publicity Chick-Fil-A received when the franchisor confirmed that it opposed same-sex marriage. The ripple effects were far reaching. Franchisees, who had not voice a position, faced protests and boycotts. One supporter of same-sex marriage took his opposition to YouTube and found himself out of a job as a result. Although there also those who lauded Chick-Fil-A for taking its position public, most of the publicity was not positive.

Chick-Fil-A's message was directed to the public, generally, but what about an employer who takes its position to another level? Take Nordstrom, for example. The Seattle-based company sent an email to its 56,000 employees, voicing support for same-sex marriage. The letter was signed by Nordstrom executives and brothers Blake, Pete, and Erik Nordstrom, making clear that the position was an official one.

The message stated, "it is our belief that our gay and lesbian employees are entitled to the same rights and protections marriage provides under the law as all other employees." The email comes in advance of Referendum 74, which will ask voters to either approve or reject a law passed earlier this year allowing gay marriage in Washington state.

And Nordstrom is not the only company in the Pacific Northwest to speak out in support of same-sex marriage. Amazon, Microsoft Corp., Starbucks Corp. and Nike, Inc., have also voiced support of similar laws.

So, is this type of top-down showing of support for a particular political position a good thing or a bad idea? On one hand, if the employer voluntarily prohibits sexual-orientation discrimination, supporting same-sex marriage certainly is not a far leap.

On the other hand, what about an employer who takes the opposing position and, like Chick-Fil-A, is a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage? If the company operates in jurisdictions (like Delaware) that prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, it would seem to be putting itself at legal risk. After all, wouldn't this be excellent evidence in support of a work environment hostile towards gay and lesbian employees? Maybe it would not be admissible. But, maybe it would be.

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