42% of American workers say they have fought about politics at work—and you can expect it to continue

uzenzen | Getty Images

For years, workers have been told to keep politics out of the workplace, but these days that can seem unavoidable.

According to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 42% of U.S. employees say they have personally experienced, and 44% say they have witnessed, political disagreements at work.

Roughly 34% of respondents told SHRM that their workplace is not inclusive of differing political perspectives, and 12% said they have personally experienced political affiliation bias.

A majority (56%) said that discussing politics at work has become more common in the past four years.

"One year out from the 2020 election, we should expect to see political disagreements increase even further in the coming months," said Johnny Taylor, SHRM president and CEO,  in a statement. "Companies can't, and shouldn't try to, quash these conversations because — contrary to popular belief — they're already happening. But what they can do is create inclusive cultures of civility where difference isn't a disruption."

Gary Waters | Getty Images

The trend isn't just happening among workers; employers are also becoming more politically vocal.

"Companies need to be proactive, not reactive. We're talking about hot-button issues that fire people up, so it's important to put up 'guardrails' when facilitating constructive, inclusive environments where employees can disagree without being disagreeable," said Taylor.

Experts agree that setting guidelines, such as agreeing to give all coworkers time to speak, can help promote healthy conversations at work.

Companies also feel pressure to take sides

Glassdoor said increased politicism among corporations is one of the biggest trends of 2020, as a part of its newly released Jobs and Hiring Trends for 2020 report.

"Traditionally, companies have tried to be neutral politically for really obvious reasons," Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist at Glassdoor tells CNBC Make It. "But the political climate in the U.S. is so contentious, so divided. There's a new scandal in the headlines every day, and it's taking over watercooler conversations at work. It's also putting CEOs under pressure to react in that environment."

Chamberlain says the politicized climate is creating opportunities for companies to speak up.

Taking a stand on "social issues that are closely linked to their mission and values can help organizations with talent attraction in a tight labor market, and it can be a win for them in terms of a company culture," he says, pointing to Patagonia's advocacy for environmental sustainability and Dick's Sporting Goods's stance on gun sales.

But while large corporations and high-ranking CEOs may have some space to take political stances, Chamberlain maintains that individual employees should exercise caution when talking about politics at work.

"Individual employees need to be extremely careful," he says, suggesting that workers find groups of like-minded coworkers and organize volunteering efforts. "Volunteering for a specific cause like homelessness, or whatever it may be, that's a way that people can safely express their political opinions in the workplace and help build team morale and culture at the same time. But I definitely think going it alone without being part of a larger group at a company is risky."

To be sure, political speech can get you lawfully fired.

"Private employers can fire you at will," Lata Nott, executive director of the First Amendment Center, told CNBC Make It. However, according to Nott, the company's reasoning for firing an employee cannot infringe on their civil rights. "Title VII protects your age, national origin, race, ethnic background, gender, religious beliefs and pregnancy status from discrimination, but it does not explicitly protect political speech at work."

Jemele Hill: When talking politics at work is worth it
Jemele Hill: When talking politics at work is worth it

What employees should keep in mind

Indeed, speaking out at work can have serious consequences.

Few understand this more than sports reporter Jemele Hill. In 2017, Hill called President Donald Trump a "white supremacist" after he said that there were "some very fine people on both sides" of the violent Unite the Right protest held by white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Hill was suspended by ESPN for two weeks for violating its social media policy, and in January 2018, she was moved to The Undefeated, an ESPN-owned digital news site that describes itself as the "the premier platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture."

In August of 2018, it was announced that Hill had accepted a buyout of her contract. She left the company shortly after.

In an August 2018 interview with CNBC Make It, Hill explained that workers should always weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks before they begin a political conversation while on the job.

"There is a level of discomfort when discussing politics at work depending on what those politics are," she said. "If it's one of those stances where [workers] feel like if they don't take it [on], they can't live with themselves, then they have to be aware of what the consequences are and be OK with accepting whatever comes their way."

Hill stressed that there are times for keeping your views to yourself and said that in order to determine if a topic must be addressed or if it can be written off as a matter of opinion, workers need to understand the difference between politics and morality.

"We have to make the distinction between what is political and what is just simply right and wrong," she stated. "Those are two different things."

Hill said that if workers decide that they need to discuss a tense issue at work, they need to be prepared to put in the work. This means having thoughtful, calm and respectful conversations in person and online. Remaining professional and polite is not always easy when having political conversations, but it is a crucial part of having a constructive conversation.

"I do think that there's a way to certainly operate in corporate America without compromising yourself," said Hill. "It is not always easy. It certainly isn't without you having to have a whole bunch of conversations and e-mail chains and all that, but I think it is possible."

While communicating respectfully online is crucial, Hill said that it's best to start these conversations in person. "A lot of those conversations can be handled in-house privately one on one," she said.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss:

Michael Horn: How to tell if your degree is worth the money
Michael Horn: How to tell if your degree is worth the money