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Should Accountants Avoid Political Discussions at Work?

As you’ve probably heard, over the weekend, the New York Times obtained a few pages of Republican presidential nominee and stale cheese cracker Donald Trump’s tax return and shared them with the world. Lots of people have been pining for months for any morsel of Trump’s returns and now that we have that morsel, people everywhere are throwing in their two cents into the internet abyss.

The election has inordinate number of tax issues as far as I can tell — whether it’s Trump’s tax returns or the operations of the Clinton or Trump Foundations — there’s a lot info out there that your average tax professional might find interesting and worth discussing with colleagues.

This is made slightly more complicated because it’s a presidential election between two historically divisive candidates. Honest to God, this campaign is only slightly more polarizing than a three-way race between olives, black licorice and blue cheese for most-hated food.

So the question is — can accountants, particularly those with tax knowledge, have civil discussions about these issues in the workplace? Should they have the discussions at all?

This CFO article from last week cautions against allowing unfettered political discussions:

Earnest conversations about current events can contribute to productive bonding among employees. At the same time, companies should walk the proverbial fine line when it comes to topics, such as this year’s impending election, that have emotions running high, according to employment attorney Jacob Oslick of law firm Seyfarth Shaw.

“Political tensions can create unnecessary conflict in the workplace and pose risks to employers,” Oslick says. “Employers should convey to employees that, if they want to discuss politics in the workplace, they should be tolerant, civil, and non-derogatory toward people who think differently from them.”

Okay, I agree that lots of people are completely incapable of having an emotion-free political discussion involving HRC or DJT, but as noted, there are relevant topics of discussion to be had for a lot of accountants; if two people can have a decent conversation, why shouldn’t they?

I think, for starters, there's a lot to be said for workplace tact. Political conversations can spiral out of control fast and even a friendly disagreement could become contentious pretty quickly. Second, it's one thing to talk about tax policy or returns, it's quite another to call Trump a misogynist, xenophobic, race-baiting oaf or calling Hillary Clinton a self-interested, corrupt, reckless monster. See?! It's really easy to things to devolve into character assassination. Third, don't you have work to do?

Personally, I think if two people are comfortable agreeing to disagree on topics like Trump's tax returns, a fair amount can be learned from each other. But if you wind up in a discussion with someone who's more interested in comparing each candidate's list of lies, then it seems like a waste of time and maybe even a hostile work environment if people can't contain themselves. Honestly, if you can't keep it civil, just go scream into the void on Facebook with the rest of our crazy relatives.

What say you? Do you have political discussions at work or avoid them? Can or should accountants talk politics at the office? Discuss.

Why You Should Rein In Office Political Debates [CFO]

Image: iStock/SetsukoN