Partisan tensions across the U.S. have gone from a long-simmer to near-boiling in recent months. Although most Americans define their politics as somewhere in the middle, an increasing number feel compelled to draw hard lines in the sand and publicly denounce or support certain candidates, policies or ideals. However, doing so could put you at odds with your employer. California employment attorneys have been fielding an uptick in queries on wrongful termination and just how far First Amendment free speech protections shield workers and their right to independent political views and expression.
In an out-of-state case making headlines, a former city government employee has filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging he was fired because of his vocal support of the Republican president, which he expressed by wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat to work and in discussions with co-workers. He is asserting violation of his First Amendment free speech and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights, as well as discrimination based on age (59) and race (white).
The short of it is that while employment retaliation for a worker’s political activity is not covered under federal anti-discrimination laws, California statute is more stringent. The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from free speech infringement by the government. It does not extend this protection to the workforce. What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC means companies can freely endorse and campaign for political candidates and even try to influence a worker’s vote. They cannot, however, demand that you choose a certain candidate.
California Law Protecting Employee Political Expression
While you probably cannot count on the 1st Amendment or workplace discrimination laws to shield against adverse employment action for political speech, you may have grounds for a claim in California Labor Code Sections 1101 and 1102.
The statutes prohibit private employees from doing any of the following:
- Making, adopting or enforcing any policy or rule that would prevent workers from participating or engaging in politics or run for political office.
- Assert any control or direction over employees’ political activities or affiliations.
- Threaten an employee with job loss in order to coerce or influence workers to assert a particular political stance or refrain from it.
Keep in mind, though, these laws are primarily intended to protect employees from political expression outside of work. So if your employer enacts a policy prohibiting political discussions with customers or clients, that probably doesn’t run afoul of the law. Employers may also be within their rights to take action against an employee who uses their job to promote a political position not supported by the employer.
Furthermore, California law stipulates that in order to be deemed wrongful termination on the basis of political retaliation, one must show the firing happened because of one’s political beliefs as opposed to pragmatic concerns. For example, an employer can’t take action against workers running for political office, but might have grounds to do so if one is elected to local office in a nearly full-time position that would compete with “day job” work for employer.
Our long-time San Bernardino wrongful termination attorneys offer free initial consultations to help you determine whether you’ve got a valid employment lawsuit for political retaliation.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
The truth about whether you can be fired for expressing your political views at work, Jan. 20, 2018, By Aine Cain, Business Insider
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