Ø Hanging political cartoons in your office
Ø Sending emails to colleagues asking for support of a controversial cause
Ø Posting your opinions about local campaigns on a blog or Facebook
What do these three activities have in common? They can all get you fired. Of course, there are a lot of factors influencing the probability of this, such as where you live and whether you are a private or public employee.
However, your boss has a lot of freedom to control your political actions if you are a nonunion private employee. In fact, as Lee Tien, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, stated, “You don’t have the right to speak freely in the workplace.” Apparently, this reality also extends to outside the workplace.
Here are two very important points to keep in mind:
- The First Amendment’s guarantee offers absolutely no protection against being fired for something said by a private employees, as opposed to public workers. (Private sector employees make up about 85 percent of the workforce). This is true for statements made in the workplace as well as outside of it, including on social media. The First Amendment applies to actions by the government, not by the private sector.
- While federal law does prevent employers from firing workers for discriminatory reasons, such as their race, religion and gender identity, there is no protection for political activity.
Basically, if you work for a government office, you’re relatively well protected by the First Amendment. If you’re a private employee, you don’t have many rights when it comes to broadcasting your political views.
What employees can do outside of work, such as attend political rallies, has always raised questions, but the Internet has added a new level to the conversation. For example, if you post a picture of yourself at a rally on Facebook and write a few words to follow, your boss may see it and take issue.
According to Mr. Tien, it’s these social media posts that can be seen as most controversial, “We get calls on our complaint line about someone getting into trouble — not usually fired, but spoken to — about writing a blog.” However, Mr. Tien also makes the point that private employees, while not covered by federal protection, do have a due process right. In fact, being harassed by an employer for political beliefs or activity may have legal recourse.
Companies should consult with their lawyers to ensure that they fully understand state and federal laws governing what employees are, and are not, allowed to do. During this consultation, a business attorney can help draw up a clear company policy that should be shared with all employees.
Contact the skilled and experienced employment and business lawyers at Posternock Apell, PC. We guide companies throughout Camden, Burlington and Gloucester counties in business dealings of all kinds. We can help protect your company and interests. Call today.