You may have been able to keep politics away from the annual Thanksgiving gathering of relatives with diverging viewpoints, but the workplace requires daily interaction. What’s an employer to do with emotions still running high from a divisive election? Employers should be vigilant and insist that all employees act with professionalism and respect. Employers should ensure that each employee, regardless of political persuasion, feels that he or she is a valued team member and is treated accordingly.

As reported by Forbes, several CEOs of national corporations, such as Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, and others issued public statements calling for unity and open minds in attempts to address the simmering atmosphere following the election. GrubHub’s Matt Maloney issued a detailed letter to his employees stating that he rejects Donald Trump’s “nationalist, anti-immigrant and hateful politics,” would “work to shield our community from this movement as best as I can,” and affirmed to any of his employees “that is scared or feels personally exposed, that I and everyone else here at GrubHub will fight for your dignity and your right to make a better life for yourself and your family here in the United States.” But Maloney’s message went on to say, “If you do not agree with this statement then please reply to this email with your resignation because you have no place here. We do not tolerate hateful attitudes on our team.”

While Maloney’s intent may have been to assure employees that the company would not tolerate discrimination based on race, religion or national origin, the call for resignation of those who didn’t agree with his statement was interpreted by some as a call for the resignation of Trump supporters, and resulted in a media frenzy and some backpedaling. Employers should take a lesson and carefully craft any messaging to ensure that all employees feel protected.

What should employers do to proactively manage anticipated employee reactions and conflict?

  • Don’t wait for a simmering issue to boil over before acting.
  • Use the current environment as an incentive to update and reissue policies, such as EEO, anti-discrimination and harassment, retaliation, and workplace violence.
  • Provide anti-harassment and diversity training to all employees.
  • Take all reports of harassment and discrimination seriously and investigate appropriately. Remember that even if the conduct complained of does not rise to the level of illegal harassment or discrimination, it may still violate company policy and should be dealt with accordingly.
  • Lead by example. Treat all employees fairly and consistently. Management employees should refrain from engaging in election discussions or imposing their personal viewpoints and beliefs on their subordinates.
  • Remind employees that, above all, respect and professionalism must prevail in the workplace. Employees do not have to share common opinions and viewpoints. Employees do not have to be friends. But they are expected to act respectfully and professionally with each other and those who patronize the employer’s business.