Ethics Quiz: The Basecamp Political Discussion Ban

Last week, software company Basecamp’s CEO Jason Fried anounced in a blog post that employees would no longer be allowed to openly share their “societal and political discussions” at work. “Every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant,” Fried wrote. “You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target.” Coinbase, a cryptocurrency company, issued a similar edict last year, but the internal reaction to Fried’s announcement was a rebellion. Basecamp employs around 60 people, and about a third of the them have accepted buyouts to leave in an apparent protest against the new policy.

There are few legal limits on employers regulating political speech in the workplace. First Amendment rights do not apply to private sector employers. Any speech ban has to clearly state that the policy will not apply to discussions relating to terms and conditions of employment protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. An employer must also consistently enforce the policy lest selective enforcement suggest discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or other protected classifications.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Week is…

Is such a ban ethical?

I’m not sure it is, any more than demanding employees not discuss sports, family, metallurgy or ethics. I’d quit such a company, and I never discussed politics on the job (except when I worked at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where politics was part of the job.) Employers have an opportunity to try to change the problem Fried described, and shutting down speech isn’t the ethical way to do it. I find dictating no politics in the workplace is as odious as declaring mandatory political points of view. Insist on civility, respect, and controlled emotions: absolutely. Ban abuses of power, like attempted indoctrination, intimidation or bullying. Free speech, however, is essential to building relationships, and political discourse is the life’s blood of a democracy.

Interestingly, libertarian Reason endorses such workplace bans. I think the magazine’s take is wrong.

I am, however, open to be persuaded otherwise.


48 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Basecamp Political Discussion Ban

  1. I agree completely, setting the standard for adult, non-emotional, interactions would be more appropriate and productive. My guess however is there are to many emotional thinkers for that to work any longer.

  2. I’ve lost three long time friends over them demeaning me for not being horrified by Donald Trump’s temerity to even exist on the planet. If they’d been partners at a firm I’d have been working at (I was partners with one of them), it would be incredibly detrimental to the continuance of my working with them. Maybe just taking that sort of thing off the table makes sense.

  3. This feels more like a way to keep the company and employees safe than a ban on free speech. I’m not sure if that was the intent, but I’d love if my company took this approach.

    Every day in the work place is a minefield of choices. As we’ve seen, people are outed and shamed for seemingly minor infractions or really no infraction at except not falling into right thinking. I’d much rather say “sorry, we can’t discuss this at work due to company policy” instead of “I find your position without logical merit and disagree with you on that basis”.

    I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard at work “we know how hard the world is right now for you, especially with all the tragic happenings caused by the police in our area”.

    I’m quite frankly sick of all of it, and would like work to be a time I focus on work, not poor ‘George Flyod murdered by racist cops’. Wanna bet I’d be jobless in a hot minute if I said as much?

    • I agree. The amount of persecution that occurs due to not agreeing with leftist ideology creates a hostile work environment. I don’t think this is so much about limiting free speech as it is about removing toxic atmosphere from the workplace.

      Leftist doctrine has moved into the realm of demanding active participation with its ideology. You cannot even just keep your head down and ignore the people you disagree with, because even that is now considered a racist, bigoted, hate speech action by the left.

      Politics doesn’t belong in the workplace unless you work for a political employer. People shouldn’t have to walk around terrified of being fired for their political beliefs.

      Frankly, I’m sick of listening to left wing propaganda at work. I’m sick of not being able to say anything without getting fired. I’m sick of worrying that just not saying anything at all will get me fired. Only specific political opinions are currently allowed in the workplace, anyways. Those opinions are hostile, divisive, radical and obnoxious. Removing that from the work environment would be a huge relief.

      • Null Pointer,
        On top of that, the employer can get dragged into the public on any fight. Was it Georgetown that was pressured to lay off an adjunct who did not react appropriately to a perceived racist comment by another professor. Having a no-discussion policy may be the only way for an employer to try to avoid getting dragged into such public disputes. When they do, they typically prove themselves to be spineless weenies. That is because they have to take whatever course of action that keeps the business going. Sometimes that means virtue-signaling to attract customers; sometimes, it means virtue-signaling to keep customers; sometimes it means flip-flopping because you signaled the wrong virtue ion the first place. Taking the position that certain topics are off-limits provides a basis for avoiding controversies when they arise (until demands are made to fire people who violate the policy).

        They really can’t win.


        • The employer is virtually always going to back the leftist these days, because not backing the leftist makes you a white supremacist. There is no way to enforce fairness in viewpoint diversity without opening a company up to accusations of racism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, hate speech and whatever else the left feels like accusing them of.

          Banning politics entirely is the only practical path to limit liability and actually make a difference in the political persecution currently going on.

        • But Jut, GULC wasn’t “pressured” if it had any guts. You would be amazed how many commenters here I have been asked to ban, with threats attached. Georgetown Law Center was cowardly, hypocritical and wrong.

  4. I told my husband just yesterday that I’m so fortunate to have spent most of the last dozen years self-employed. And that gratitude was mostly due to the political climate. I’m definitely friendly, talkative & opinionated…but I’d also take the “don’t say anything at all” approach. But that approach isn’t an option anymore: what used to just be considered politeness or professionalism is now considered, as Basecamp’s memo noted, “complicity”.

    I don’t think it’s an attack on or control of the First Amendment. I really think this boss is trying keep his employees safe. It wouldn’t be a necessary evil if our country hadn’t lost its collective mind and left all semblance of rationality or reasonableness in the dust.

    • Without pushing back there is no hope of ever finding our “collective mind” and regaining any “semblance of rationality or reasonableness”. Staying silent is what got us here. Now I am not suggesting starting a political war at work, but in the course of human interactions our silence is complicity which snowballs the problem. This is how we got to where we are, good people just want to do their job and go home to their family and life. Liberals want to reshape the world and have succeeded until now we must stand or submit, sounds like most here want to submit.

      You don’t have to expose yourself or your beliefs, ask questions (leading if needed), feign ignorance but never concede. We are guilty of what we have done and what we have failed to do, in the end I would rather lose a business connection than my integrity and self-respect.

  5. Of course, it’s ethical to limit non-work-related speech during working hours at the workplace. In fact, it’s sometimes essential to do so. An employee that is allowed to tell dirty jokes or pester his co-workers constantly about their religious beliefs may cause the employer to be sued for allowing a hostile work environment.

    Is not conversation about political and social issues potentially another area that could cause employees to feel targeted for harassment by their co-workers? Haven’t we all been in agreement about the hostile working environment caused by mandatory diversity training that forces certain employees to bash their specific identity group publicly out of fear of being labeled?

    In that situation, the company would be compelling speech as opposed to restricting speech among employees, but the principle is the same. Whether through mandatory training or through the power of peer pressure, the company is facilitating the singling out of employees with differing viewpoints. It’s just that in the latter case, it’s failing to take steps to protect employees from toxic co-workers who want to force their beliefs about politics and social issues on others.

    After all, employers can prevent employees from spending excessive amounts of time speaking about non-work-related topics, saying negative things about other employees or the company in general and blocking access to non-company internet sites. All of those things limit speech or access to speech promulgation in some way.

    • In a punch clock factor setting you are correct, but in a white collar environment where interactions are often part of the position. These jobs are supposed to be held by professional adults who are capable of rational interactions and self-censure when it interferes with the job. Many of you are rationalizing this away restriction as a form of protection for the non-indoctrinated. If you are ok with this why not employer mandated voting or charitable giving? Perhaps a restriction on the types of food you can eat or bring to work?

      The same outcome could have been accomplished with a simple civility and professionalism policy, equally applied once and all the ideological garbage would stop (perhaps after a few “protests”. How would that harm have been greater paying a third of your workforce to leave…?

  6. I think an outright ban on particular types of speech at work is unethical.

    What I do at work is I have a personal policy that I don’t talk about anything that is not directly work related at work during working hours, on break, at lunchtime or before and after work is an entirely different thing. When I hear others veering off into non-work related discussions I interrupt with something work related. I will talk about other non-work related things once in a while but it’s pretty rare and usually it’s when someone is having some kind of issue that’s occupying their mind and they need to be pulled back to the work mindset. They all know they are safe venting to me and it’s happened over the years for almost all of them, I listen and then I’ll share my opinion when appropriate and send them on their way. It’s great for conflict resolution; in fact I strategically placed my office between the front administration offices and the manufacturing labor side of the wall so conflicts could be resolved before they ever cross no man’s land to the opposing side of the conflict. At one point when we added a new wing to the building for all the offices I flat refused the President and Vice President’s direct orders move to the new building, I gave him my reasons why, and told him if he wanted me to continue to work here I would be staying in my current location – period.

    When I started here years ago my immediate supervisor VP then company President later, that died a couple of years ago, was constantly talking about politics to everyone, it wasted a lot of everyone’s time. I knew something had to change. After I implemented my personal policy, and others around here saw how I did it, it caught on. It’s not that it doesn’t happen once in a while but now it’s a lot more rare that people talk about non-work related things. This was a case where being the pebble worked very well to change the environment.

    I firmly believe it when I say that “If you want changes in your life or work, the changes must begin in you”.

    Make an effort in your life to be the pebble and don’t expect instant gratification.

  7. I remember walking into the kitchen of a small law firm where I had a deposition, to avail myself of the coffee maker at their invitation, and seeing a notice on the refrigerator to all employees. I can’t remember the exact verbiage, but what it boiled down to was the belief that there was really no reason for joking to exist in a place where people needed to be working and didn’t need to be distracted by humor that could prove offensive. Therefore no one was allowed to make any jokes about anything or anyone at any time. Anyone who could not abide by this was invited to submit their resignation forthwith. As someone who likes to make jokes, I didn’t particularly like that policy and was glad I didn’t have to abide by it,

    However, I have worked with too many bosses who were old school and thought it was perfectly all right to make racist or otherwise politically incorrect jokes. What’s ironic, is that one of them was otherwise very liberal, well, liberal when it came to his choice of who to vote for and advocate for in the office discussions. When it came to dealing with women or minorities he saw the former as nothing more than pieces of meat and the ladder as nothing more than dumb clients to be guided to the easiest and fattest settlement he could get with the least work.

    At times I’ve been just as guilty, going back 16 -17 years we lawyers could be a very racist bunch, and sometimes would tell very politically incorrect jokes while waiting for arbitrations or settlement conferences. My personal favorites: the drinking on the job joke and the flat black joke. Looking back, it was not just dumb, it was obnoxious. You’re in the office to work, not make your co-workers laugh, and definitely not to make your peers roll their eyes and your subordinates very uncomfortable by making jokes you know are considered offensive, simply because you can get away with it.

    It’s also the place where you work, not where you get into discussions about the ongoing political and social issues in this nation except as they may affect the workplace. As a public employee, I am more exposed to that, however, as a lawyer, it is entirely appropriate to only worry about the law, and let the elected officials worry about the politics. In a private company there is really no reason to get into political issues. You’re selling a product or a service, you’re not selling politics. The guy waiting for you to deliver his package may or may not be a staunch hater of Donald Trump, but that’s not supposed to matter, deliver the damn package. The customers out there waiting for you to make that pizza they ordered could care less about your thoughts on what happened with George Floyd. Make the damn pizza and get it out to them in a timely manner. You and your coworkers are there to execute whatever your duties are. You can’t execute them if you’re not paying attention, or if you’re distracted because of something someone said, or because you’re now angry at a co-worker because his thoughts on an important issue don’t jibe with yours. That’s not supposed to matter. Do your damn job and do not let yourself be distracted by issues which don’t directly affect it.

    It shouldn’t come to this. Coworkers should have the wisdom, the maturity, and the restraint to be able to engage in discussions not directly related to work appropriately. However, there will always be certain issues that are brain melters that will cause people’s brains to dissolve and run out their ears and their emotions to take over. There will also be known sore spots with certain people. If you know someone is a Hibernian, don’t try to convince him that the question of the UK and Ireland is not so simple. If you know someone belongs to UNICO or the Sons of Italy, maybe you shouldn’t approach him to tell him that Columbus was a murderer. If you know someone is a born-again Christian or some other kind of holy roller, maybe they would not be the person to try to sell on gay rights. The converse also applies in each of these discussions. In each case, all you are going to generate is a whole lot of heat and very little light. It is entirely wise and reasonable to prevent these kinds of discussions before they happen. The problem is that you still need to be content neutral to have a policy that will stand up.

    I do agree with the blog writer when he says that the company does not need to chime in on every social issue nor decide that it is going to endorse this or that charity. Frankly, I find being pressed for charity at work to be simply annoying. I find it both annoying and wrong if it is done by someone higher up the chain of command, your boss should not be telling you she wants to see you at the breast cancer walk this weekend or he wants to see you out there tonight with your candle to light up the world for Amnesty International. You should be free to say, well I’m sorry, but I have plans with my family this weekend, or, hate to disappoint you, but if I can get out of here on time I’d really like to get home sooner rather than later so I can spend some time with the kids before it’s time for them to go to bed.

    The further we can divorce politics and social issues from the workplace the better.

  8. People aren’t machines.
    In the end, unless the employees are all work and no play, the policy will fail.
    The longevity and growth of a team depends on people sharing life to some degree.
    Talent will depart, setup shop somewhere else and build a better product in a more fun environment, then dominate the industry.
    Ethical yes? If you are in charge and folks agree to get on board. If you agree to work under those terms don’t complain.
    Stoopid, yes! From what I have experienced on teams is that people actually like healthy disagreement.
    The whole thing sounds like leadership inadequacies being forced on infantilized entitled adults.

    • BINGO! If you can’t handle a simple issue like this without meat-axe policies like “no discussions of politics,” then you aren’t competent enough to run a company at all.

      • I will still never forgive a former co-worker for shouting at me and pointing during a discussion that went zero to 60 over Ireland. The Corporation Counsel stopped it from going further (I was about to deck this guy), but I told him never to speak to me again except in the line of duty, and when he left I told him if I saw him again I would kill him. I was that angry at being that disrespected.

          • BTW, what DO you do when two employees have a verbal altercation that results in permanent hostility? Coming at this as a supervisor, rather than a participant, I’d warn them both to stay away from each other and off whatever subject resulted in this blowup, on pain of instant termination if this reared its head again. You’re at work to work, not talk divisive issues, and NOT to fight, verbally or physically, over issues that trigger you.

    • What if your boss was a TDS patient and talked about politics all the time. Would you feel safe at the company? What other option is there other than ban political discussions? You can’t have any guidance for ‘civil’ discussions, because we have seen what a large group of people think of as ‘mostly-peaceful protests’. I see this as an attempt to protect employees from the continual creep of the Cultural Revolution into their lives.

  9. Unfortunately, we live in an era in which long-understood proverbs and basic truisms have been neglected. They have forgotten advice like “Manners maketh man” (William of Wykeham, 14th C) or “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” (Proverbs 20:3).

    Instead, many people value advice like ““You can’t be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for” (Hillary Clinton) or “You push back on them. You tell them they are not welcomed anymore or anywhere” (Maxine Waters). Any disagreement about matters of importance is recast in terms of Good vs. Evil, and they have no doubt in their minds that their side is the right one. Confident that they won’t be punished if they violate a few rules “in a good cause”, they may even actively work to undermine coworkers who may disagree with them.

    In such a toxic environment, it is best to just avoid contentious topics when you’re working with people who may or may not respect your beliefs.

  10. I’ve seen a lot of coverage of this story, and almost none of the stories mention what I think is a key detail: Basecamp is a completely virtual company. Everybody works remotely, which I think changes the calculus quite a bit.

    The story has been presented in almost all accounts as a ban on “talking about politics at work”, which brings up the image of a couple of employees jawboning about “those clowns in Congress” at the watercooler. But in a company that operates remotely, like Basecamp, almost all communication is electronic. There are no ephemeral chit-chats in a colleague’s cubicle. It’s all stored forever on a server somewhere, to be dragged out and discussed endlessly when the winds change and what was just a sort-of-amusing joke 15 years ago is now a hate crime that enables genocide.

    That appears to be what happened at Basecamp. As I understand it, some employees there decided to dig up old discussions that weren’t “woke” enough for today’s sensibilities, and it got to be a huge distraction. I see Basecamp’s ban as less a restriction on speech in the workplace and more an effort to prevent polluting the company’s communication channels with distracting nonsense. There’s literally no way for the company prevent its remote employees from communicating with each other about any topic they wish, through myriad private means from telephone calls to setting up their own chat rooms on someone else’s servers. But there’s no obligation for the company to devote its own resources to facilitate such conversations.

    Other parts of the story include Basecamp getting rid of perks like paying for gym memberships and “healthy” food delivery subscriptions, and instead just paying people the cash value of those benefits. It seems they are trying to get away from trying to push certain behaviors (laudable as those behaviors might be) in employees’ private lives, and refocusing the company on its core mission. Imagine how much better off we’d be if every company took this approach, and just focused on making a their product or delivering their service instead of wasting resources on futile attempts to change the world…

    • Question, Jeff: doesn’t this cut both ways? How do you build any morale or rapport in a virtual staff if they can’t discuss non-workplace topics electronically? “Don’t be an asshole!” is a lot more reasonable than “Shut up, because some people will abuse the privilege of speaking!”

      • But, they can discuss non-work topics electronically, as has been noted, just not on the Basecamp account, and there are plentiful ways they can do this. The restriction is no different than, for example, a school district limiting use of its email account to education business or a military organization limiting the use of its phones to official business (both situations which I have encountered). People who resign because they cannot use company equipment the way they want to sound like spoiled children.

      • I suspect there’s enough in-person (phone, videoconference, etc) interaction between employees to build rapport and comity that it’s probably not detrimental to reserve the electronic communications for work-only traffic. In fact, people are more likely to adhere to the “don’t be an asshole” edict in those settings than they are when sitting at a keyboard looking at text on a screen. Employees that find common ground with each other will form friendships whether the company supplies a chat room or not.

        Additionally, those employees who complain the loudest about these avenues of communication being removed are probably the ones who were spending way too much time on them, anyway. It’s been reported that about a third of Basecamp’s 60 or so employees have resigned (or say they will, which of course isn’t the same thing) over this. Sounds like Basecamp just got rid of a lot of dead weight and potential future headaches.

        Maybe a good middle ground might be to have such a “social” chat room where non-work topics can be discussed, but limit each employee’s use of it to, say, 30 minutes per day, and not keep a record of what is said there. That would be a more accurate analogue of the old-school water-cooler, rather than a 24-hour-per-day running conversation, stored like a time bomb in your company archives waiting to blow up your operation…

      • One other thought: “Don’t be an asshole” only works as a rule when everybody has a basic agreement on what that means. We now have a younger generation that has been raised to believe that “their truth” is more important than *the* truth, who have been told they’re exceptional in every way since birth. To such people, “asshole” means “someone who disagrees with me”, and the term could never possibly apply to them, since anything they do is automatically righteous and correct. By the time someone reaches adulthood with a head full of that shit, it’s far too late for a visit from the HR lady to be enough to convince them to stop being an asshole. Given the type of company Basecamp is, it’s likely that at least 50% of their workforce is from this age group.

        Yeah, Basecamp’s move is not a precise, surgical approach, but sometimes a cancer is so advanced, local anesthetic and a scalpel won’t get the job done, and you have to amputate the whole limb.

      • How do you build morale and rapport in a politically charged environment where one side is out to cancel the other?

    • Exactly this.

      If you read Jason’s blog post, he explicitly states that the employees that wish such conversations to continue may do so with their own resources, or even company software on separate places.

      A lot of what he writes looks like he’s seen the company move away from the old-time “37 Signals” philosophies and this is a push back to that direction.

  11. I don’t agree with organizations outright banning political speech because there are less drastic ways to handle such things. In any organization for which I have worked, there have always been a few people who, if left to their inclinations, would take any opportunity to waste work time with “societal and political discussions,” (among other topics) and there were a few who virtually never talked about anything not work related. Most people fell somewhere in the middle. Those organizations had many work rules about being conscientious and productive during work hours, not wasting time on personal business, not disturbing or annoying others to the detriment of their productivity, etc.. Generally, those rules were consistently but not oppressively enforced to promote a harmonious and collegial atmosphere. In the organization I retired from, my office for the last ten years was in a general administrative office area shared by two bureaus, where there was a large break room. In the break room, or while at lunch away from the facility, there were often spirited and sometimes argumentative discussions about a variety of topics, but those came to a stop when the break or lunch were over and folks returned to their work areas. When someone’s behavior crossed the line into conduct forbidden by the rules, supervisors dealt with the individuals involved. This seldom required serious disciplinary action but there was always the possibility of formal sanction. I don’t personally recall more than a couple of instances that ever required more than a counseling session. I retired nearly seven years ago, when a precious few didn’t get butthurt so easily about every possible vague interpretation of words or gestures that genuinely meant no offense and most people still wanted a pleasant and harmonious workplace and knew how to be civil. You know, grownups.

  12. Jack said:

    I find dictating no politics in the workplace is as odious as declaring mandatory political points of view.

    I’m afraid I can’t agree, and for the following reasons:

    1. No politics is a viewpoint-neutral restriction, rather than the biased alternative in your comparison of declaring a mandatory viewpoint;

    2. “No politics allowed” will likely create a more positive workplace. While there can be and are constructive political conversations, they are more likely than almost any other subject to degenerate into hard feelings, sharp rhetoric and unethical retribution. Even leaving aside the whiny “feelz” arguments of one viewpoint or the other dominating and allowing the minority to feel beset by hostile co-workers, open hostility between political viewpoints is likely to reduce workplace harmony and overall worker satisfaction.

    3. Political debates are very time-consuming unless the participants fall back to the “agree to disagree” position. Placing politics off-limits reduces the likelihood of time-wasting arguments. Granted, sports and other topics can be just as destructive of productivity, but if you’re going to remove just one such potential problem, politics is the best candidate I can think of.

    The best argument for forbidding political debate is productivity. Having worked in many offices, I have seen first-hand the productivity hit and investment in aggressive management caused by free-wheeling political debate. My experience, which is only mine and nobody else’s, is that encouraging an environment where political debate is kept to a minimum on the job improves attitudes and reduces destructive office politics, cliques, and gang-ups — none of which are a benefit to productivity and a happy workplace.

    Banning it outright may be less desirable than instituting a policy that discourages it, but unless that discouragement is constantly reinforced, it can do more harm than good. I like the idea of banning it altogether, and allowing those offended by the policy to take their talents elsewhere.

    In my judgment, it is an ethical policy for the reasons of improved productivity and less workplace friction and disharmony over non-work issues that are best left elsewhere.

  13. In reply to Glenn at al: the argument that “No politics allowed” will likely create a more positive workplace is the same one used to justify censorship and viewpoint suppression at universities and news media organizations. I know, I know, education is supposed to be about airing differing views. So is the nation, and once you are out of school, there are only a few places to talk about civic issues at all. Make rules of engagement? Sure. But anything else is obnoxious no matter how “productive” it is.

    • “Once you are out of school, there are only a few places to talk about civic issues at all.”

      You mean like the entire internet? Politics has infested virtually every corner of modern life, such that people are having their lives ruined for comments made in knitting chatrooms and comic-book message boards. People who want to talk politics have more than enough outlets for that without making their work colleagues miserable, too.

      We may actually have *too many* places for political discussions these days…

      • I don’t regard debates online as real discussions. They are people exchanging statements. It’s not a real discussion. Real discussions are face to face, with another human being who you see and recognize as a human being. Not a screen name.

        • Would a discussion on a chat channel at a virtual workplace be constructive like a face-to-face discussion, or useless like an online debate? In my experience, it tends more toward the latter, with the added bonus that any hard feelings that result get carried over into what is supposed to be a professional environment.

    • Different circumstances, Jack.

      This article demonstrates in no uncertain terms that this “rebellion” was happening before the company declared themselves a politics-free zone. As I suspected, it was some leftist employees angry that the company founders were not “woke” enough:

      In days past, we could have political discussions and still have a productive workplace. These days, you too-often can’t. “Woke” activism has ruined it, like so many other things. Companies rationally have to do what is necessary to protect both themselves and their workplace environment from disruption by radical political positions determined to make everyone who disagrees with them pay a price. Allowing “free speech” to permit activists from either side to damage the office environment is not ethical. Companies, as we have said many times, are not the government, and in this case, there is a compelling interest.

      I’m not saying this is “good.” I am saying it is, sadly, wise despite the principled, reasonable objections you raise. It is also content-neutral, which in my mind makes it fair, if not ideal.

  14. I struggle, but I think that if forced to choose, I’d say that this is maybe a zugzwang, and perhaps the least unethical choice.

    In mitigation:

    1) The comparison between censoring something and compelling speech is bad, there are orders of magnitude of difference between restricting speech (which to some extent we put up with on the daily) and compelling speech (which I can’t actually think of an example of without resorting to some really convoluted interpretations of “compelled”). It only becomes worse when you consider that “No Politics” is viewpoint neutral. Almost anytime someone attempts to force speech, they never say “talk about politics or be fired” they say “say good things about political positions I like or be fired.”

    2) As stated above…. We censor speech all the time, particularly in the workplace. There are all kinds of things that aren’t actionable outside of employment that is actionable inside of employment. You can’t opine at the perkiness of a coworker’s breasts, or rate them on a scale of 1-10, or talk about eating condiments off them, as obvious examples. You’ll be fired. Those are maybe bad examples, because they almost certainly constitute per se harassment even outside of work, but I’m sure that we can all think of something that would get you fired for cause that you could say outside the employment. Perhaps an opinion that your boss is taking so much time off so he fulfill the fatherly duties for the new litter his Golden Retriever just threw.

    3) I doubt very much that this rule came out of the ether, it’s almost certainly the reaction to a very public, very loud, very career ending yelling match that may have ended up with bodily harm done of workplace property when someone who voted for the anthropomorphic pumpkin realized that there was someone who voted for the anthropomorphic corpse in the room or vice verse.

    In aggravation;

    1) It’s ham-handed. People bristle at new restrictions, and the more burdensome the more they’re likely to resist it. If people get hired at a place where people are already required to wear lobster hats, it’s fundamentally different than instituting a new rule that people wear lobster hats, and you’d REALLY hope that you’d be able to find a way to figure out a way to lean into the new direction without a plurality of your workforce leaving. It’s incompetent, and incompetency is unethical.

    But that reminds me… Food for thought:

    1) What if you made a workplace rule banning sexual harassment, and half your workforce quits?

    2) Are dress codes unethical? If they aren’t, why are speech codes?

    I had more, but I have to run into a meeting.

  15. I think it is important to note here what the ban is on. It is not on political speech, and it is not all electronic discussion of political speech:

    1. No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account. Today’s social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It’s become too much. It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It’s not healthy, it hasn’t served us well. And we’re done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work happens. People can take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can’t happen where the work happens anymore. Update: David has shared some more details and more of the internal announcement on his HEY World blog.

    *People can take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can’t happen where the work happens anymore*

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