Brexit: Stay out of the leave debate?

In My Professional Opinion (IMPO)… Should we stay out of the leave debate (at work)?

The ‘in or out’ vote on 23 June is looming. Colleagues are talking about it at work and there are some strongly held opinions. Risks of offending fellow employees abound.

And its not just the risk of offending your colleagues. Could you risk offending your employer (note: various UK companies that have taken sides)’.  

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4 thoughts on “Brexit: Stay out of the leave debate?”

  1. It is often wise for employees to keep their political views, particularly strongly held views, to themselves as much as possible in the workplace. One only needs to watch programmes such as the BBC’s Question Time to see how passionately some people hold their views and how easy it is for such passions to develop into confrontations. I can’t think of many employers who would welcome a Question Time style debate being held unofficially across the office or shop floor.

    The issue of our membership of the EU is a particularly emotive one because it has at its core the question of free movement of workers from other EU countries. Those workers are in the very same workplaces where such issues might be discussed and it is not difficult to imagine that a worker from elsewhere in the EU might feel somewhat upset or threatened if forceful views were being put forward by their work colleagues that suggested they might not be welcome in the UK. Employers would also need to be careful to make sure that such discussions were not allowed to develop into the kind of territory that might potentially amount to race discrimination or harassment.

  2. Emotions are running very high on this issue. Clearly there is scope for disagreement between employers and employees which could amount to – or at least feel like – harassment of the employee of grounds of deeply held political or philosophical convictions. This could lead to problems the Equality Act which employers will want to avoid.

    For employers who are finding it impossible to stifle debate they may want to consider a temporary written “code of conduct” which sets out expected behaviour guidelines. An employer will then have some control of the level at which discussion takes place.

    Hopefully your employees will behave better than some of the politicians in this debate!

  3. The polarised nature of the Brexit debate has given rise to a lot more political discussion in everyday life than usual. With strong campaigns from both ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’, and ‘Vote Leave’, the topic is prone to evoke disagreement rather than consensus. Whilst, on the face of it, conversations may appear harmless, it is wise for employees to refrain from engaging in the leave debate at work and for employers to “nip in the bud” any heated conversations that may get out of control.

    With the referendum less than a month away, many employers and companies have already made commercial and economic decisions on which way to vote. Whilst an employer cannot actively discriminate against political views, it is unwise to encourage any negative sentiment in the workplace.

    Political discussions are often emotive and employers need to be aware that this may lead to workers feeling isolated. Many voters have personal motivations behind their political affiliation; therefore, an employee can find the views of a colleague to be distressing or threatening. Consequently, workers might behave differently towards certain colleagues, and this could potentially lead to feelings of discrimination and office hostility.

  4. As 23 June creeps ever closer, debate and discussion around the EU referendum is intensifying across the media and in the workplace.

    Debate is obviously important but issues may arise when employees hold very strong, polarised views and the debate spills over into disagreements and arguments which effect relationships at work. Due to the issues surrounding the debate about our European membership there is a risk that extreme views may cause offence and disruption to the workplace.

    If not properly managed, then this may lead to complaints and at worst employment related claims against the company for failing to deal with the issues correctly. If there are potential issues, then as an employer you should ensure that all employees are aware of the company’s policies on equality and dignity at work and that the situation is managed properly to avoid issues escalating and becoming an expensive drain on resources.

    From a legal perspective as regards the organisation and its employees, employers are in no way restricted from telling employees which way the leadership team hopes the vote will swing. A business may believe that a particular outcome will be a favourable result for the future prosperity of the business and so can educate the team to this view and encourage staff to vote in agreement. Disagreements with employees would have to be handled sensitively though and steps taken to ensure that disagreeing employees didn’t suffer a detriment as a result of their disagreement.


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