You can’t play politics with employees’ political choices

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Issue: In this election year, politics will become a hot topic around the water cooler.

Risk: Retaliating against employees for their off-site political activities or comments can run you into legal trouble.

Action: While employees' off-site political actions are protected, you don't have to tolerate political debates inside your workplace.

Elaine and her boss worked happily in the marketing department until the boss, an avid President Bush backer, learned that Elaine was volunteering for the Howard Dean campaign at night. Soon after, Elaine was terminated for "poor performance."

Sound fishy? A court would think so, too. In most states, employees are protected against discrimination, harassment or termination based on their political views.

That's why it's wise to remind managers not to retaliate against employees or applicants simply because of their off-duty political activities or comments.

Recent case: During an appearance on a radio show, Najee Ali, a newspaper columnist, voiced criticism of a local congresswoman. Soon after, Ali was fired by his boss, a friend of the congresswoman's.

Ali sued, alleging retaliation for political speech, which is protected by California law. A California appeals court sided with Ali. (Ali v. L.A. Focus Publication, No. B159820, CA 2/7, 2003)

While you can't retaliate against employees for their political views, you don't have to put up with distracting political debates inside your workplace.

Freedom of speech doesn't extend to private workplaces. So private employers typically can prohibit political speech at work. Employees are there to work, the courts say, not host a "Kerry for President" rally.

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