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Don’t punish employees for their off-site political activity

by on
in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

As the calendar turns to an election year, politics becomes a hot topic. But remember: You can't fire or discipline employees or applicants because of their off-duty political activities and comments.

Recent example: 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)

Key point: Putting up with political debates inside your workplace isn't necessary.

Private employers typically can prohibit political speech in the workplace. Employees are there to work, not host a "Dean for President" rally. And First Amendment freedom of speech doesn't extend to private employers.

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. And if employees are told to return to work, but instead continue to disrupt the office, you can discipline them.

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