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Here’s How to Do Business During this Heated Election Season

Does business suffer in a presidential election year? Could fights among employees over Biden vs. Trump cripple your company? Webb Analytics has been hearing those questions a lot lately. We've looked into it, and the answers appear to be: 1) Not much economic impact, if at all, and 2) No crippling inter-office battles if you assert your rights as an employer. Let’s examine both issues.

Does Business Suffer?

Well, it depends on whether you’re talking about business in general or the housing economy in particular. Marcus & Millichap, a commercial property company, compared every election year with all non-election years between 1985 and 2023. It found job growth in an election year was about two-thirds what it was in other years, while the stock market rose only about 40% as much. Meanwhile, the gross domestic product rose at 89% of its non-election-year pace.

That would suggest a general slowdown, but what about in housing? Zonda looked at housing activity for every month of every year back to the 1960s, comparing activity for each election-year month with the same month in non-election years. Zonda’s Chief Economist, Ali Wolf, said in a March 12 presentation that her group found a slowdown only in November. Her conclusion is that people hesitate only in the days immediately before and while the votes are counted, but once the outcome is clear they revert to normal business.

So, why the difference between the reports? It could be that employers and stock market investors have to speculate a lot longer than others regarding how the election will affect policies and business activities. Thus they are cautious. But for the economy in general and for most home buyers (outside of Washington), the election has marginal impact.

Political Tensions in the Store

For this concern, Claudia St. John has a simple reminder: Employers have a right to nip political talk in the bud. 

Workers’ only protected speech in their workplace comes when they talk about working conditions, said St. John, President of The Workplace Advisors (formerly the Affinity HR Group). 

Political speech “does not involve the workplace,” she said March 11 at a lumber wholesalers’ conference near Tucson. “Do not [sanction bringing] paraphernalia to the workplace. Don’t allow it. We are so tribal at this point, you should just say ‘Don’t talk about it.’” And you have a right to do that, because it’s not necessary.”

Here's a good summary in the National Law Review from attorney Abby Cole:

"..[P]rivate sector employees do not have First Amendment protections at work, but they may have protections under various laws, including state laws governing speech and expression. It is essential to understand the laws that may be applicable and the parameters of those laws. Some states have “free speech” or “political activity” laws that impact what kinds of practices and policies employers can legally implement, laws prohibiting discrimination based on the political affiliation of employees, and laws regarding employee candidacy for elected office, among other laws. For example, California has several state laws that provide legal protections for private employees engaging in political speech at work. As another example, under Connecticut law, public and private employees have free speech protections, and employers are prohibited from disciplining or discharging employees for exercising their free speech rights with certain limitations. Specifically, free speech is permissible, assuming that it does not interfere substantially or materially with the employee’s job performance or relationship with the employer and addresses a matter of public concern, such as terms and conditions of employment and social justice, among other reasons. Therefore, even under Connecticut law, conversations or expressions that disrupt working time and operations may not be protected. Multi-state employers should, therefore, consider engaging counsel when crafting their political speech policies in order to ensure that they are legally compliant."

A recent survey of 1,000+ Americans by the public relations consultancy Weber Shandwick found that employees want to work in an environment that strives to avoid politics and foster agreement. Seventy-one percent of the people surveyed who work in companies said they believe employers should keep the workplace neutral. The antipathy toward politicking was so great that only 34% supported the idea of having a company bring in candidates to share their views. And 81% agreed with the statement that "American businesses should encourage a free and fair election, including voting integrity, voting rights, and a peaceful transfer of power."

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