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Politics in the Office: Top 5 Legal Considerations

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 19, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

More than ever before, it seems like employees simply can't leave their political beliefs out of the workplace. Perhaps that's because of our current vitriolic political climate or because so much of our political beliefs affect what happens in the office.

Thoughts on union membership, workplace discrimination, and equal pay often come from certain political leanings or take on political overtones when discussed at work, so employers trying to keep politics out of the office have a harder task than they may even realize. Heck, employees fired for flipping off the president are now filing lawsuits against their former employers.

So how to keep your workplace above the political quagmire? Here are five things to think about:

Private sector employment in the United States is generally "at will" -- meaning an employee can be fired for any reason or no reason at all, provided those reasons aren't prohibited by federal or state law. This normally applies to racial or gender discrimination, but can there be illegal political discrimination as well?

2. Can Employees Refuse to Work for Political Beliefs?

It's one thing to abstain from firing an employee over their political beliefs, but what about an employee refusing to work based on those beliefs? Can you fire an employee for not doing their job, if that non-performance was for political reasons?

3. What to Do About Political Distractions at Your Business

Sometimes it's impossible to inoculate your workplace from politics. So is it possible to at least minimize political distractions in the office without running afoul of employment laws? Can you have a "no politics" rule at work?

If an employee is running an active campaign for political office, it's virtually impossible to completely keep it confined to water cooler talk. Do employees have a right to run for office without being fired?

5. Civil Rights at Work: Respecting and Protecting Your Employees' Free Speech

Many of the questions we've asked above hinge on an employee's free speech rights under the First Amendment. And while employees certainly have the right to free speech, they may not have a right to consequence-free speech, especially in the employment context.

If you have questions about setting up a political conversation policy in your workplace, or are wondering about the limits of political free speech in the office, contact an experienced employment attorney in your area.

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