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Preventing political tension: How to address political disagreements in your dental office

Dec. 7, 2020
It's no secret that political tensions are high right now, and sometimes these tensions are carried over into the workday. How can dentists handle these situations while still following human resources rules?

If you long for the days when people did not discuss politics at the drop of a hat as a matter of good taste, especially not at work, you are not alone. Nonetheless, an increasing number of calls have come into the human resources experts in the CEDR Solution Center asking for ideas to tamp down political tension.

Of course, no single solution works for everyone. And as we outline in this blog, the temptation to forbid all political conversations in the office is strong for many doctors and managers. But employing that policy as a “solution” to the problem can actually be illegal for various reasons.

Common questions concerning politics in the workplace

A sample of problems we’re hearing from practice owners and managers across the country looks something like this.

  • We strongly discourage political discussions in our office, but all of our team members are friends on Facebook. Often, they come into work already having argued or been offended by what the others are posting and are mad at each other before the day even starts.
  • One of my team members does not want to see a patient because the patient insists on talking about politics.
  • One member on my team is not of the same political mind as the others and they are picking on her.
  • My team is trying their best not to fight, but some patients have still commented on how unhappy they seem.
  • One of our employees got into a huge argument on Facebook and two patients have contacted me about what was said.

What should we do?

I can’t provide the perfect solution to all of these issues here because no article will address the subtle nuances of every situation in every office. Still, there are some things to keep in mind when you find that you need to put a stop to the turmoil caused by discussing politics at work.

The most attractive solution is to create a blanket rule that forbids all politicking in the office. The problem with that approach is that it can create a legal and compliance issue that could turn into a gift for an attorney, especially if you enforce it and end up firing someone for breaking the rule.

Some employee conversations are protected by law

Employers need to understand that some politically related conversations are protected by federal, state, and local municipal law. These conversations include anything that has to do with benefits, wages, or working conditions. Further, you need to recognize that two people arguing over which candidate is better, in general, is quite different than employees asserting/discussing whether a new minimum wage law should go into effect. The latter is a protected activity, but that does not mean that they can disrupt work to have those conversations.

Therefore, one of the safest things you can do to address politics in the office is to focus everyone on the impact that the behavior has on each team member’s ability to perform the essential functions and duties of his or her job. Elections will keep happening. We are a politically charged nation at the moment, and I believe that the owners and managers who learn to thread the needle and model the best behavior are the ones who will see the best outcome.

You’re invited to read our expanded article about politics in the workplace to learn more about what you need to know before addressing political conversations in the workplace.

PAUL EDWARDS is the CEO and founder of CEDR HR Solutions, HR Vault software, and the Facebook group, HR Base Camp. CEDR is a leading provider of on-demand HR support for dental practices of all sizes and specialties in the US. With more than 25 years of experience as a manager and business owner, Edwards is well-known throughout the dental and health-care community for his expertise helping owners and managers solve HR issues effectively.