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Amy Joyce: Life at Work

An Evolution at Work

Tiptoeing Around the Party Line

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 5, 2004; Page F01

David Fernandez tolerated the sounds of Rush Limbaugh emanating from his boss's radio. He even liked to defend the National Public Radio broadcasts playing on his own radio.

But this back-and-forth -- what he once considered interesting conversation -- turned hostile this summer when, he said, his boss accused him of being "sad and unstable" when Fernandez argued his support for presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

_____An Evolution at Work_____
Multilingualism Is a Necessity In Many Jobs (The Washington Post, Sep 5, 2004)
Flextime Bids Fond Farewell To the 9-to-5 (The Washington Post, Sep 5, 2004)
_____Workplace Columns_____
Life at Work
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And when the boss's mother began blanketing the office with e-mails arguing for the reelection of President Bush, Fernandez tried sending out some of his own -- but was ordered to stop.

So it was then, in early July, that Fernandez decided he was getting out. "This place is crazy," he said. He packed up his desk at the graphic design firm in San Marcos, Tex., and moved to California, where he enrolled in the Art Institute of California at San Diego. His former employer declined to comment on the situation.

The Iraq war, the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11," harsh political ads and a general tension about terrorist attacks seem to have left the country's voters in unbudging support of their own candidate. Those staunch beliefs are difficult to shed when it comes time to merge with co-workers in the cubicle, and there is little room for interpretation this year.

"Relative to other elections, there is a very small undecided vote right now," said Richard A. Chaifetz, head of ComPsych Corp., a Chicago employee assistance management company. People's views this election season are "aggressive, adamant and can lead to tension and animosity in the workplace." In fact, he noted several instances among his clients' employees recently when the political discussion led to screaming and, in one case, pushing.

And while Deborah Keary, information center director at the Society for Human Resource Management, said her organization hasn't had a spike in calls from companies seeking guidance, it makes sense that the workplace has absorbed some of the increasingly partisan atmosphere seen in Congress and in daily American life.

An example: On Aug. 18, a Frederick company fired Glenn Hiller, an employee who heckled Bush at a rally in West Virginia. Apparently, making his views known at a Republican rally the day before was not a wise career move if he wanted to stick with his graphics firm, a client of which had provided the ticket to the invitation-only gathering.

And then there is Ono Ekeh, who worked for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the District and, on the side, moderated a "Catholics for Kerry" Web site.

When a conservative Catholic group brought this to the attention of his employer, saying Kerry's positions were not in keeping with Catholic beliefs, Ekeh was fired, he said. The organization told him he was being let go for using a work computer to make political postings during work hours.

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