-18

I work in a big tech company, and a majority of the people in my community have different political opinions from mine. To express my political position, I have a politically motivated screen saver - very friendly, nothing extreme. My office-mate keeps turning off my PC every time I leave my office, because the screensaver got under his skin. What is the most optimal way of handling it?

I mean, he is infringing on my first amendment, I think, or at least he is probably breaking some kind of rule to not touch others stuff. The computer belong to another company which works close with the company where I work, so he cannot use defense that this is a company computer so he can touch it. Can I sue the company for a few million dollars?

19

What is the most optimal way of handling it?

Change your screensaver to something more professional and politically-neutral.

Suing the company for something like this may be a long shot, and something not to be done lightly in any case (if any at least consult a lawyer first before attempting anything)...

13

You really should try to understand your laws.

I mean, he is infringing on my first amendment

The First Ammendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It does not afffect your company or your coworker, it only forbids the government from limiting your speech.

Your speech is protected from another entities by other laws. For example, if you wore a t-shirt with a message and your coworker tore it, you could try to have him prosecuted for assault and/or damages. Similarly, if the message were in a sign at your home and your coworker entered to remove it, you could try to prosecute him for traspassing.

But, as others answers have pointed at, you do not have a right to decide how to use your company's equipment. At this point this becomes an internal matter of the company:

  • Maybe they have a policy stating that you can put whatever political message you want and that a coworker cannot change it, and then your coworker would be violating the policy.

  • Maybe they have a policy stating what messages are acceptable and, if political messages are not allowed, you are violating the policy.

  • Maybe they do not have a policy and your manager or HR get to decide in a case-by-case basis.

In any case, causing trouble at the workplace is likely to get HR's attention sooner or later, and then they can chose to discipline whoever they want: you, your coworker, both, or none. Given that in many USA states you can be dismissed freely (the company does not need to justify why the are firing you), this does not seem like a sensible course of action.

You can check some Q&A about the First Ammendment at https://law.stackechange.com.

7

Keep in mind that both the office and the monitor are company property, not yours.

They're allocated to you for the purpose of doing what you're paid for, not for the purpose of displaying political messages, no matter how correct the message may (or may not) be.

Based on that, your grounds for any complaints are rather iffy, and the whole thing is not worth the hassle, and not worth of your manager, co-workers and the company in general thinking of you as a troublemaker.

The whole battle is one that's not worth fighting; save whatever goodwill you have in the company for more critical issues - even if you have none at this time, there will be some sooner or later.

7

Although a handful of states have some protections around political speech in the workplace, Prevailing opinion from employment law experts is that employees don't inherently have the right to express their political views in the workplace as they do in a broader context. To put it another way, your right to free speech doesn't inherently extend into the context of your workplace. So, while you said,

I mean, he is infringing on my first amendment, I think

that's not inherently true. Further, you said,

at least he is probably breaking some kind of rule to not touch others stuff.

It'a interesting to bring up the idea that someone is breaking the rules here, because many companies have strict policies that limit political activities or solicitations at the workplace. These policies often limit things like displaying political posters or political messages at your workstation, and they sometimes even specifically name screen savers or desktop backgrounds. Per the above references, employers are generally allowed to implement these policies.

So, your first step should be to check with your employer. The fact that a different company owns the specific hardware you're using doesn't exempt you from policies that dictate your use of technology while at the workplace. So, if anything, there's a chance that you might be the one breaking a rule, at least in the context of your workplace.

All that said, you are still left with the issue of how to handle another employee interfering with your workstation, regardless of the above. When it comes to conflicts with peers, often the best policy is to address the peer directly. If you can approach your peer with a constructive attitude, you may find that you can come to an agreement. If you approach your peer with an argumentative or "I'm right no matter what" perspective, you will likely just make the conflict worse.

Finally, you asked,

Can I sue the company for a few million dollars?

That's hard to answer, because it's not really clear on what grounds you would file the suit, given the above.

3

This is one reason why the common sense approach to screensavers, and desktop backgrounds, is a professional approach.

While you might think your image of Batman or The Spice Girls or Dastardly & Mutley or your partner catching some rays is harmless, there is always someone who can, and will, be offended.

Sometimes nothing happens, other times they will turn off the screen or even cycle the power. In rare cases you may end up being stabbed, shot or run over - not everyone is as stable as you.

1

Have you never heard “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company?” Consider the office "polite company." You've probably selected one of the three most likely topics to draw negative attention from someone. Inciting problems in the workplace is essentially never a good plan.

-1

If you have actual evidence that this co-worker is turning off your PC then you should confront them and ask them to stop. If they do not stop their behavior then you should escalate to your manager and let them deal with it.

When confronting your co-worker or your manager don't bring up your screensaver as it is irrelevant to the co-workers alleged behavior.

That being said, a screensaver of a political nature is probably not appropriate for most workplaces. I would suggest that you use a more neutral screensaver to avoid offending others.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.