It is election time. which is an interesting time to be working with people of all political persuasions.
Many workplaces have employee evangelists explaining how America as we know it is over if <insert their favorite politician here> is not elected. Others are saying that it may already be too late, and America is doomed.
Many people feel frustrated by this and fall into the “please stop talking about this at work” crowd. But does anyone HAVE to stop talking about it at work?
What Can Be Done About Employees Discussing Politics at Work?
Employees do not have free speech rights in the workplace. The first amendment only applies to the government and not to private employers. This means that companies can have policies in place that restrict employees from soliciting employees to vote for a particular candidate and can even discipline employees in some situations.
However, the National Labor Relations Act allows employees to work together to improve their wages and working conditions. What this means in practice is that an employee can discuss issues that may be related to improving their working conditions. Thus, employees have the right to ask fellow employees to support a candidate because they will raise the minimum wage, change some standards related to OSHA, or improve their workplace in some other way.
So, what can employers do when an employee wants to talk about politics at work. There are a number of things that you should consider.
Let’s look at some situations:
The Campaign Desk/Cubicle
What should you do if an employee has turned their desk into a campaign advertisement for a particular candidate? Again, your employee has the right to engage in concerted protected activity, which means that some banners may be permitted in the workplace. What you are allowed to do would primarily depend on your office’s policy. Certain types of objects may be protected under the law (like some religious objects), but generally political items would not fall into this category. Some may be protected if they are suggesting that an employee vote for a candidate because they will improve wages or working conditions. Regardless, posting political posters in an office is not something that an employee should do because it creates unneeded tension in the office.
The Office Canvasser
A non-solicitation policy will generally prohibit employees from soliciting employees during working time and in working areas. This means that an employee cannot go from desk to desk requesting that the employee vote for a particular candidate. If your company has a non-solicitation policy, then you are able to restrict employees from soliciting others while they are working. Employees can still solicit employees when they are on break, during lunch, or before or after work. Nevertheless, a non-solicitation policy is something that all companies should have.
The After Work Social Media Poster
A company may be able to fire or discipline an employee if they post on social media about their political activities. Don’t forget about the woman that was fired for flipping off Trump’s motorcade. She was fired for having obscene things on her social media, which was against company policy. It did not help that she worked for a federal contractor. While companies can generally fire employees for any reason, as long as it is not an unlawful reason, almost every company will not fire employees for political postings on social media. If they did, then a lot of people would lose their jobs each election year.
Employers Can Ask Employees to Support a Particular Candidate
Generally, a company can encourage their employees to vote in a certain way. In 2012, one CEO emailed the 7,000 employees in his company to tell them that if Obama was elected he would probably have to let people go because of Obama’s tax proposals. He stated that rather than raising taxes, the government should lower the tax rate, which would “let me spend it on growing the company, hire more employees, and generate substantial economic growth.” Companies can and do encourage their employees to vote a certain way, which is not likely to stop as our two major political parties continue to grow more polarized each year.
Can an Employer Fire Someone Because They Support a Particular Candidate?
There are some states that prohibit employers from discriminating against an employee’s political beliefs, but not all of them do. Some states also offer protection to employees who engage in legal off-duty conduct. While this usually means that employees cannot be fired for smoking or drinking alcohol, it may also apply to supporting a particular candidate, going to campaign rallies, and engaging in other activities.
Even though many states do not offer any kind of protection to employees, most employers do not want to fire an employee unless there is a good reason to do so. Remember, hiring is expensive and time consuming. Employers do not want to do it more than they have to.
Fortunately for all of us, there are only a few days left until the election is behind us, which will allow all of us to remember what commercials used to play before we were inundated with political campaign ads: fast food and auto insurance commercials.
The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, then you should speak with a lawyer about your specific issues. Every legal issue is unique. A lawyer can help you with your situation. Reading the blog, contacting me through the site, emailing me or commenting on a post does not create an attorney-client relationship between any reader and me.
The information provided is my own and does not reflect the opinion of my firm or anyone else.