Sunday, December 11, 2016

Should I pretend to support my boss's spouse's candidacy?

A reader, let's call him Chuck, from the Southwest United States finds himself at odds with many of his colleagues when it comes to political views. The reader considers himself less conservative than most others with whom he works, but he writes that he never flaunts his views nor criticizes those of others unless he finds something they say specifically offensive. Chuck has found that keeping politics out of the workplace has been relatively easy -- up until recently.

This past fall, Chuck's boss's spouse was campaigning for a local position. While his boss always espoused that he had no party affiliation but was an independent, his spouse ran on a conservative ticket with a conservative platform. For much of the year leading up to the November election, Chuck's boss spent time working on his spouse's campaign. But up until a few weeks before the election, his boss had kept his campaigning out of the office.

A few weeks before the election, Chuck's boss arranged an assortment of his spouse's campaign collateral material in his office and sent out an email to others in the company inviting them to come and get a button, bumper sticker, magnet, or yard sign supporting his spouse for office if they wanted one.

Chuck, who writes that he has never shied away from being blunt. "My desire for gainful employment softened my resolve," he writes. He "reluctantly" took home a bumper magnet so it would seem as if he supported his boss's spouse. "It never made it past the waste basket at home." Chuck isn't sure that his boss didn't check his vehicle to see if the bumper sticker he took was in use.

The boss's spouse lost her election to the more liberal opponent.

"Was I wrong to insinuate that I would support a candidate based on personal/professional connections rather than on my own political biases and platform affinities?" asks Chuck. "The courageous choice would have been to point out the inappropriate nature of the request at the time it was delivered, but I failed to do this. Instead, I offered a feigned agreement of support and collected the bumper sticker for corroboration."

Now, Chuck asks: "What role does ethics play in calling out a superior's unethical behavior?"

I'm not a labor lawyer, so I won't speak to the legality of Chuck's boss sending that email to his colleagues. But ethically, Chuck is right that it was inappropriate for the boss to do so.

Chuck's concern about keeping his boss happy so he can remain gainfully employed is fair, but Chuck didn't have to respond to his boss's email. He knows that by taking a magnetic bumper sticker, he might have been sending a signal to his boss that he intended to support the boss's spouse.

If Chuck didn't feel comfortable bluntly confronting his boss by telling him how inappropriate his email and campaign paraphernalia was, the right thing would have been for Chuck to simply ignore the email and not show up to collect any campaign material.

And the right thing would have been for Chuck's boss's boss or someone from the human resources department to tell Chuck's boss that he was wrong to send the email and he should never use company email for such purposes again. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Anonymous said...

Chuck did the right thing. There seems to be a misconception about human resources. That department exists solely for the benefit of the company. If an employee is helped by HR it is coincidental.

Liz said...

... if they wanted one. (as stated by Chuck)

No there should have been no mixing of politics and the business but Chuck didn't need to take the bumper sticker.