Debates to Dismissal: Could Discussing Politics in the Office Get You Fired?

With the 2024 general election approaching, opportunities to discuss politics are increasing. With the average person spending 35 hours a week at work, it’s not difficult for these topics to arise in office spaces. In fact, 60% of people think it is fine to discuss politics at work, with 1 in 5 stating that it forms part of their daily conversation.

However, politics can be controversial, begging the question, “Could I get fired for sharing my political values?”

Sophie Wardell, People Director at Higgs LLPhas advised on the legalities of discussing politics at work and its risks. 

  1. What are the risks?

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, and in the UK, individuals are entitled to express their political opinions. However, while discussing politics in the workplace may be acceptable in certain circumstances, it can be a sensitive and potentially risky topic. According to the Public Order Act 1986, individuals must not use ‘threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm, or distress.’ However, such consequences can arise from political conversations.

Political beliefs encompass a wide range of values that significantly impact daily life. These beliefs are often deeply intertwined with personal identity, historical events and cultural contexts, making them particularly sensitive. Criticising or commenting on a colleague’s political views can risk causing offence or distress, potentially leading to conflict, grievances, disciplinary action or dismissal.”

  1. Can employees discuss politics online/on social media?

“Discussing violent or controversial political topics online could be grounds for dismissal. According to the government website, ‘It is not automatically unfair to dismiss someone because of their political beliefs or political groups they belong to, but a tribunal might find this unfair.’ Given the moral and ethical values intertwined with political discussions, it is important to consider the risks to your career associated with expressing political opinions online, especially if they are particularly controversial or at odds with your profession or the role you are employed to do. If your comments could be deemed offensive, unprofessional, or discriminatory, you risk violating your contract and being dismissed.”

  1. What are the risks to employers?

“If employees are dismissed for expressing their political opinions, they may have grounds to claim unfair dismissal, arguing that their political beliefs are protected under equality laws. This would involve a tribunal where legal experts assess whether the employee’s political views constituted grounds for fair dismissal. Employers should seek expert legal support in such matters to ensure their companies are protected.

Discussing politics in the workplace carries the risk of disrupting the work environment and creating conflict. Even without grounds for harassment, political discussions can make the workplace unpleasant and unwelcoming for those with differing opinions.”

  1. What advice would you give employers?

“I’d advise companies to establish guidelines, particularly in relation to social media, which encompass sharing extreme political or potentially offensive views and outline unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. Additionally, employers must take complaints seriously to prevent grievances from escalating and protect employees’ well-being. Working with an effective workplace mediator may also be appropriate if tensions run high.”

Tatiana Rehmova

A glass half-full kind of a girl and a believer that everything happens for a reason, Tatiana works in Media Relations. She loves writing, spotting inspiring stories, and building meaningful relationships.