Don’t punish staff for off-site political comments, but at work, it’s your call

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

As the calendar turns to an election year, here's a good point to remind managers: Don't retaliate against employees or applicants simply because of their off-duty political activities and comments.

In most states, employees are protected against discrimination, harassment or termination based on their political views. In California, for example, the state labor code prevents employers from forbidding workers to participate in politics.

Key point: Private employers typically can bar political speech in the workplace.

But if you don't completely ban political speech, you should clearly tell employees that all workplace speech must be respectful, accommodating and tolerant of other views.

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

Ali sued, alleging wrongful termination in retaliation for political speech, which is protected by California law. A California appeals court sided with Ali and sent the case along to trial. (Ali v. L.A. Focus Publication, No. B159820, CA 2/7, 2003)

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