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RISMEDIA, Jan. 30, 2008-(MCT)-You can feel free to wear a button announcing your pick in the presidential primaries at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, but you’ll be breaking company rules if you try that at SCANA.

Many companies vary in their approach to workers who want to display political buttons, bumper stickers or posters in the workplace. And lawyers who represent companies on labor issues say the law is unclear on how far companies can go to control political displays.

But don’t fret too much: Few companies are calling their labor lawyers for advice.

“We don’t’ find there are a lot of problems or issues with it,” said Hagood Tighe, a management labor lawyer in Columbia. “Most employers are pretty tolerant of people’s political opinions and beliefs.”

Companies that prohibit employees from wearing buttons include SCANA, Palmetto Health and United Parcel Service.

UPS doesn’t support particular candidates or parties, and it worries that employees displaying buttons or posters might be misconstrued by the public, said Kourtenay Mott, a spokeswoman for UPS in Columbia.

“Displaying stuff like that will represent UPS, and it’s not for a particular party or candidate,” Mott said.

Companies without a policy on wearing or displaying campaign materials include Michelin, BlueCross BlueShield and S.C. government workers under the State Budget and Control Board.

“The only way this would be an issue is if it became a disruptive situation,” said Mike Sponhour, spokesman for the state agency.

In cases where political displays are causing disruption, managers would sort out the situation on a case-by-case basis, he said.

But Sponhour said he’s never heard of a such a problem.

For companies trying to prevent political displays, they should be aware of a 1962 state law that makes interfering with political expression a misdemeanor, said Michael Malone, a Columbia lawyer and partner with Malone, Thompson, Summers & Ott.

The law says: “It is unlawful for a person to assault or intimidate a citizen, discharge a citizen from employment or occupation, or eject a citizen from a rented house, land, or other property because of political opinions or the exercise of political rights and privileges guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution and laws of the United States or by the Constitution and laws of this State.”

Malone said the law has not been tested in the state’s appeals courts, and its constitutionality could be challenged.

Copyright © 2008, The State, Columbia, S.C.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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