Basecamp, a productivity software-making company, is currently under heat for implementing a controversial ban on societal and political discussions in the workplace. In a September blog post on the company’s website, chief executive Jason Fried listed several internal changes the company is making. He wrote, “every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant.” Referring to the current political and social climate, Fried emphasized that these discussions are “difficult to navigate” and are essentially a “major distraction” from the job. The new policies were met with significant opposition as 20 out of 57 of the company’s employees have resigned or intend to resign.
Basecamp’s Policy Change and Response to Losing a Third of Its Employees
According to an article published in the New York Times, Basecamp did not immediately accept a request to comment on the matter. However, David Hansson, the chief technology officer and one of the founders of the company, later announced in another blog post that the company is offering severance “of up to six months of salary to employees who disagreed with the founder’s choice.” Further emphasizing that the company is committed to its policies and understands that “some employees are relieved and others are infuriated,” which reflects the general “public debate” on politics. Basecamp’s decision to impose this change mirrors one made by Coinbase in October of the same year. The prominent cryptocurrency start-up, who has previously dealt with discrimination allegations, took a similar stance, telling employees to refrain from engaging “in broader activism as a company outside of [their] mission.” Coinbase also attempted to give severance to employees who disagreed.
Is Discussing Politics in the Workplace Legal?
While the First Amendment of the Constitution protects an individual’s right to “free speech, religion, and assembly,” private-sector employers can inflict general limits on employees’ “political activities and discussions during working hours” according to Dan Prywers, a partner at Bryan Cave. Although employers cannot discriminate against their employees for their political beliefs, they can regulate the conversations they have in the workplace. The National Law Review explains that private-sector employers have the ability to implement stricter policies in the workplace regarding political and societal discussions, especially if it “interferes with business, disrupts others, or affects the company’s productivity.” Although Basecamp’s new policy has generated much controversy, their decision to institute this change does fall in line with these guidelines.
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