Inauguration Day may be upon us, but proceed with caution before making your political views known in the office.
It’s actually not illegal in the United States for bosses to terminate employees based on speech.
But what about the First Amendment? Well, as Sydney Ember at the New York Times reported in 2016, the Bill of Rights won’t protect workers in the private sector from being fired over speech in or outside the workplace — it only prevents the government infringing upon your speech, according to the blog of the law firm Parks, Chesin, and Walbert.
According to the non-profit Workplace Fairness: “Political activity retaliation is not covered by the federal laws that generally prohibit retaliation based on race, colour, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability for private employers, or by the laws protecting against retaliation on the basis of union or concerted activity.”
That doesn’t mean that your manager is necessarily held to the same standards. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision allowed companies to endorse and campaign for political candidates. This means that, in most cases, your boss can send out a mass email encouraging you to support a certain politician, according to Steven Greenhouse writing for The New York Times. However, as CBS News reports, states like Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia ban “businesses from posting notices saying that they will be shut down if a particular candidate is victorious at the ballot box.”
Note that your boss can try to influence your vote, but they cannot ultimately force you to choose a certain candidate — voting is private, after all.
In certain states like New York and California, bosses can only influence their workers’ votes within limits and cannot discriminate based on employees’ political activities or beliefs (unless it interferes with their work). Government workers tend to enjoy more free speech in the workplace.
According to a 2016 Harvard University study, 25% of 1,032 survey respondents claimed that their bosses have sent them politically focused messages. Unsurprisingly, most people weren’t too happy about that, with 70% of participants saying that there should be limits on political campaigning at work.
No matter what, it’s probably best to leave the politics outside the office whenever possible. As Rachel Gillett previously reported for Business Insider, “As an employee expressing yourself at work, you have fewer protections than you’d think — and if your boss doesn’t like what they hear, you could get fired for it.”
So tread with caution.
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