It seems that everything at the moment is about Brexit. Hard Brexit. Soft Brexit. No deal Brexit. Asking the people whether they want Brexit first ‘Brexit’. It all makes a mockery of the initial “Brexit is Brexit” comments from Theresa May at the start of the process. Even the word itself and continuing discussion of it, whatever your view, can become irritating and lead to entrenched beliefs in either ‘getting it done’, ‘getting it sorted’ or ‘stopping it’.
So, what happens when these views lead to difficulties in the workplace? After all, the traditional dinner party rules of ‘don’t discuss religion or politics’ seem to apply more and more to workplaces. But Brexit seems to have slipped past this implied rule, particularly when the (potential) event itself could lead to job instability and restructure of certain workplaces.
Let’s take a hypothetical example of how an employer should manage two warring colleagues with opposite views on Brexit who, unfortunately, let it impede work. Our hypothetical employer, Brilliant Britain Limited, supplies union jack mugs around the world. In order to do so, they rely heavily on the Production Manager, Tessa, and the Delivery Manager, Jez. Naturally, the company needs both to do their jobs well – after all, you need goods to deliver and can’t sell goods without delivering them; therefore, the aims of their jobs go hand-in-hand. From week to week, Tess and Jez need to constantly meet to update each other on production and delivery needs, so either can be amended to suit the other.
However, during these frequent private meetings, Jez and Tessa have clashed repeatedly on the idea of Brexit. To use the rather awful slogans, Tessa is a ‘Brexiteer’ who wants to leave the EU and Jez is a ‘Remainer’ who thinks the UK would be in a worse state outside the EU under the current Withdrawal Agreement.
In recent weeks, as the political situation has worsened and Parliamentary stalemate has become entrenched, Jez has become an advocate of the People’s Vote (i.e. having a second referendum). This was the final straw for Tessa who firmly believes that the result of the first referendum should be upheld and remains binding. The two have effectively fallen out, refuse to meet face-to-face and now communicate only by way of tetchy, aggressive emails.
What can Brilliant Britain Limited do? They can’t let the situation continue because, in the meantime, the lack of communication has caused chaos by way of days with goods sitting around undelivered (because of lack of vans being organised by Jez) and delivery vans sitting empty (because Tessa has wrongly assumed there is a lack of delivery vans available and hasn’t checked whether this is true because she doesn’t want to speak with Jez).
Well, firstly, they should informally speak to both Jez and Tessa individually and get the full picture. It is likely that the clash over Brexit has led to a clash of personalities and that, if both simply agreed to disagree and avoid discussing politics in the future, all would be well.
However, if the informal approach fails and both continue to refuse to speak to each other and work effectively with each other (and fault can’t be easily assigned to one over the other), it may take the holding of a formal Disciplinary Hearing with each to rectify the situation. Naturally, the employer would point out that refusing to work with a key member of staff could be construed as potential Gross Misconduct and they have a choice over continuing refusal leading to disciplinary action or, alternatively, moving on and working effectively together. Should both Tessa and Jez agree to this and performance improve, the matter should be at an end.
But, let’s say that Jez is willing to work with Tessa but the feeling isn’t mutual and Tessa basically says ‘it’s him or me, I don’t care if he says he’ll work with me, I refuse to work with him’. Could Brilliant Britain Limited dismiss her? Most likely, yes. Any action in which there is unreasonable refusal to work with a fellow staff member, particularly after the employer has sought to mediate the situation, is likely to justify dismissal and, in this way, Tessa is likely to be out of a job due to her views on Brexit (that being a likely ironic statement to make in present day).
So overall, yes, Brexit can be very divisive! But does that justify staff refusing to work with each other purely due to verbally expressed political views on Brexit? Absolutely not!
Ironically enough, at present, the above is a rare example of a ‘certain’ statement being made in relation to Brexit! Whichever side of the fence you sit on, it will be interesting to see the events that unfold in coming weeks (albeit perhaps not in the workplace!)