Political discussions can turn heated in a heartbeat. At work, this may be energy that is better spent on work-related projects. On the other hand, political discourse can also lead to greater understanding and perhaps result in new friendships.

Knowing that the former may be more likely than the latter, some companies are implementing political expression policies. But is this really necessary?

A new survey by Clutch, a company that connects global service providers with corporate buyers, found that most companies don’t have a political expression policy — and almost a quarter of employees aren’t sure if their employer does or not.

According to the survey, 41% of employees say their company does not have a political expression policy; 36% say their company does have a policy; and 23% don’t know if their company has a policy.

In addition, most of the survey respondents said they hadn’t recently experienced any sort of discomfort or discrimination as a result of their political views. However, Clutch’s Grayson Kemper believes that companies need to take a proactive approach.

Why companies should create a political expression policy

If most companies don’t see the need to have a policy regarding political expression at work, and most employees don’t think a policy is needed, what’s the problem?

“Our research indicates that political expression policies support a company's legal and HR functions,” Kemper says. “Specifically, they clearly express that your company follows employment and labor laws, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and FMLA.”

While your company might not have a problem now, that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. It’s too late to try to scramble and create a policy when you’re in the midst of the fallout from a political explosion.

“A policy gives companies a reference for situations when political discomfort arises at the office,” Kemper says. “For example, if an employee clearly creates a discriminatory environment, your company can refer to your policy as validation for taking punitive action.”

While media coverage has focused on such incidents as employees refusing to serve customers with blatantly different political beliefs, more common scenarios include employees singling out and discriminating against other employees who have different views. Other issues include employees using company resources (i.e., an email listserv or companywide message board) to promote political issues or candidates. And of course, there’s always the potential of a shouting match that may devolve into physical confrontation.

What the policy should entail

The content of your policy depends on the location of your business, according to Kemper. “Depending on your state, and in some cases, locality, your policy should explicitly state your compliance with any relevant employment and labor laws.”

He believes it’s also important to address social media in your policy. “Given that social media falls outside of the physical boundaries of the office, people often feel more comfortable expressing views that they would avoid expressing in the office.”

One thing to clarify with employees regarding social media. “You need to set an expectation that social media use in the office or during work hours is considered the same as other, in-office behavior,” Kemper explains.

And even on employees’ own time and equipment, some posts may be out of bounds.

Why employees are against social media policies

Even though political conversations can have a negative effect, we were curious why most employees were against them. “To an extent, I think many employees don't like it when companies impose any oversight or boundaries on their expression, regardless of if it's meant to ensure they don't experience discrimination about their political views,” Kemper says.

In fact, only 3% of surveyed employees have considered talking to a manager about political conversations at work in the past year.

“What's really interesting, too, is the fact that employees at companies with a political expression policy in place are more likely to support their company having a policy.”