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. Continue reading