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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 US 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 doesn’t protect workers in the private sector from being fired over speech in or outside the workplace – it only prevents the government from infringing upon citizens’ speech, according to the blog of the law firm Parks, Chesin, and Walbert.
According to the nonprofit Workplace Fairness: “Political activity retaliation is not covered by the federal laws that generally prohibit retaliation based on race, color, 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 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, 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. But as CBS News reports, states including 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 he or she cannot ultimately force you to choose a certain candidate – voting is private, after all.
In some states, including New York and California, bosses can influence their workers’ votes only 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 said their bosses had sent them politically focused messages. Seventy percent of participants said 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.