We’re living in a politically-charged country. Protests are commonplace and political debates run rampant on social media. It’s only natural that political issues spill over to the workplace from time to time.
At work, squabbles over hot-button topics can sour relationships. Your boss may notice the politically-charged comment you wrote on social media, or he may frown upon a photo of you at a rally or march.
But can you be fired for political views? Is protesting or posting politically charged rhetoric on social media grounds for lawful dismissal? Exactly where do employee social media rights begin and end?
Read on for the answers to these questions and more.
Can You Be Fired For Political Views Or Online Comments?
The answer to this question varies. The short answer is yes; however, it depends on whether you have a private or public sector job. It is important to speak to an employment attorney regarding the specific circumstances.
Many assume that First Amendment rights apply to the workplace. Again, that is not always the case. Employers can create and enforce policies regarding social media. Moreover, an employee is not automatically shielded from termination for comments made online, or outside of the workplace. These days, it may be getting easier to fire employees for what they say.
Employee free speech and social media rights do exist, but circumstances may vary.
Let’s take a more in-depth look:
When Employers Can Fire Employees Over Political Views/Speech
The law allows private-sector employers to fire an employee for a post or comment made online. Employers can also end employment for inflammatory speech, and sometimes for protesting.
This is true even when employees are off-duty. Some states protect free speech for off-duty employees. Illinois is not one of them.
Here are a few circumstances in which you can be fired for political views:
- Breaking company policies. (For example, wearing a political T-shirt when the dress code prohibits it).
- Harassing or threatening other employees.
- Making offensive comments that violate anti-discrimination policies.
- Violating a social media policy or using social media while at work.
- Damaging your employer’s reputation either by speech or behavior.
- Skipping work to attend a protest without taking the proper steps to notify your employer and/or request time off.
- Wearing a company uniform while protesting.
In some cases, it may be in a company’s best interests to fire an employee. Doing so may avoid backlash from the community. For example, a New York employer fired a woman after a viral video revealed she had made racist threats.
When Employers Cannot Fire Employees Over Political Views/Speech
The First Amendment protects public sector employees. Their employer, the government, can discipline or fire them for political speech.
But there are two exceptions to this rule. The first is when an employee’s behavior breaks the law. The second is when an employee speaks out about a personal issue and not a political one.
It is also illegal for an employer to fire employees in the following circumstances:
- The employer is inconsistent when enforcing company policies. For example, employees may wear clothing referencing one political movement, but not another.
- When employees raise concerns about working conditions. The National Labor Relations Act protects employees who point out workplace issues. Employers cannot retaliate when they protest poor safety measures, discrimination, and unequal pay. This protection extends to both public and private sector workers.
- When the employer does not take the correct steps before terminating employment. Employers must follow all terms set by the employee’s labor union or contract. Otherwise, the termination is illegal.
- When the state prohibits employers from firing employees over off-duty conduct. In some states, it’s unlawful to fire an employee for after-hours behavior. The only exception is when that behavior is illegal.
- When the state has laws against political discrimination. The First Amendment doesn’t protect workers from political discrimination. But some states don’t allow employers to promote or fire workers based on political views. These states include California and New York.
What if my boss tries to impose his political views on me?
If that is the case, coercion laws may protect you. A few states have laws prohibiting employers from trying to get employees to vote a certain way. If your boss threatens to fire you unless you change your political views, you may be able to take legal action.
What Are Employee Social Media Rights?
It is important to note what “free speech” actually means. The First Amendment does not give us the right to say what we want, whenever we want in the workplace. It protects citizens from government interference with their beliefs and speech.
To an employer, social media posts are the same as spoken words. Private employers may establish policies about speech in and out of the workplace. These policies may include social media use. This means that employers can track internet and social media use during work hours on company issued devices. Employers also have the right to fire employees who post inflammatory comments online.
Nevertheless, certain restrictions do exist, and include:
- Employers may not keep a log of an employee’s political activities outside of work.
- Employers cannot compel employees to reveal their online activities outside work. (But employers may use public social media postings to gather information about employees).
- Certain states prohibit firing someone over social media posts made outside work hours. But social media harassment is an exception.
- Most states prohibit employers from requiring employees to reveal social media account passwords.
Are You Or A Loved One A Victim Of Wrongful Termination?
Has your boss fired or disciplined you based on your political views or speech? This could be a violation of anti-discrimination or labor laws. Our team will advocate for your right to work in a fair, equal, and safe environment.
Have you lost your job over a social media post? Your employer may be infringing on your free speech rights. Speak with a lawyer to discuss your options.
It’s time to hold offending employers accountable. Our experts have the skills and experience to navigate complex claims. We’ll help you get the judgment or settlement you deserve.