Thursday, October 11, 2012

188. There are limits to 'suggestions'

With the election only a few weeks away, we are starting to hear the same sort of stories that we heard in 2008. We are hearing stories of employees who are receiving the unsolicited recommendation from their employer as to who they should be voting for in both the national and local elections. In some cases, it is just a suggestion as to which candidate might best represent the company's interest; in others, it is an employer threat that if the wrong candidate wins there might be employee layoffs.

There are some rules, but generally the employer is free to communicate its opinion on how its employees should vote. I have seen emails from a local company where the employer has sent out a notice to employees with voting recommendations stating that "employees have asked which candidate we should vote for." Many other companies have formed political action committees--with the sole purpose to get their candidates elected.

It has also been reported that Koch Industries President Dave Robertson wrote to employees, "At the request of many employees, we have also provided a list of candidates in your state that have been supported by Koch companies or by KOCHPAC, our employee political action committee." While it may be true that some employees inquired, the company-wide communication is certainly mostly unsolicited (of course, if you work for Koch Industries, need you really ask?).

Wealthy Republican Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel made similar news and took that to a new level when he wrote a threatening to employees that if they voted for Obama they may lose their job, "What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration. Of course, as your employer, I can't tell you whom to vote for . . . ." Later though, he makes the significance crystal clear, "If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company."

With the availability of jobs still quite tenuous, it is natural that employee would want to do what is best for their company and family. Few are willing to risk their job and will be inclined to protect their own financial interest.

To be fair, at times it does matter and one's organization should indeed be considered when voting. For example, the healthcare law affects many organizations and whether it remains or is repealed can have a real impact on their viability. Medicaid eligibility will be expanded, and organizations that provide Medicaid services certainly have an interest in keeping President Obama. Conversely, financial institutions impacted by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act may want Romney elected to minimized the increased regulation on Wall Street.

So the question the employee must consider is whether a CEO who communicates his or her voting recommendation is considering the company's interest, the employee's interest, or his or her personal interest?

Each organization is different, but CEOs usually make a lot of money, and it is no secret that Romney and the Republicans want to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans also usually favor deregulation and free trade and this might mean more opportunity to outsource jobs and factories--employing the cheapest labor available, capitalizing on weak environmental regulations and moving profits overseas.

Conversely, from the employee's perspective, Obama and the Democrats have supported healthcare reform and labor unions. They want to let the Bush tax cuts expire and use that money to pay down the debt and lower the taxes on the middle class. It also wants to stop the outsourcing of American jobs by lowering corporate taxes and closing the corporate loopholes that incentivize it.

While I think the employer is in a position to unduly influence its employees with its voting recommendations, and that the tactic is usually disingenuous and should be avoided, the employee has a responsibility to learn the issues and decide which candidates represent his or her social, moral and financial interests. The employer's opinion should be one of many--taken with a grain of salt and with the understanding that the employer has its own interests at stake. Employees ought to consider the big picture and all interests involved-and then make his or her decision.

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