Ask the Labor Lawyer #3 - Political discrimination at work
Question: I am a firearms enthusiast and enjoy sharing memes and articles on social media in support of the second amendment. However, I work in a blue state, and my beliefs are in the minority. I am concerned it won’t be long before my boss discovers my social media activity. Can I be fired for my political beliefs?
Response: Have you thought about looking for a new job on RedBalloon?
The general rule is that all employment is “at will.” This means that either you, or your employer, can end the employment relationship at any time, for any reason. You have no obligation to continue working for your employer longer than you wish to do so, and they have no obligation to continue employing you longer than they wish to do so.
But there are exceptions.
Federal law prohibits companies from discriminating against employees based on certain protected categories. These categories include race, religion, national origin, sex, age (over 40), disability, and genetic information. For the deep dive, see https://www.eeoc.gov/discrimination-type. Notably, federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on politics.
This is not the end of the story, however. Employers must follow state and local law, not just federal law. Many states have passed their own set of anti-discrimination laws. Some of these laws protect political activity, meaning that your employer cannot terminate you just for your politics, at least not in those states. You can find a summary of state laws here: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/politics-at-work.aspx.
Even if your state protects political activity from workplace discrimination, there are no guarantees. Let’s say someone tips your supervisor off to your social media activity, and you get fired. Let’s say you file a lawsuit, or make a complaint to the relevant state agency. Your employer would no doubt give alternate reasons for your termination. You would then need to show hard evidence that you were fired for your politics. If you live in a blue state, it is possible that the investigator or judge would be biased against you and decide in favor of your employer. After all, protecting gun nuts (and I use this term affectionately) is not a popular cause these days.
It seems that our country’s endless promotion of equity and inclusion has squeezed out diversity of thought. This is tragic. But some employers - like those on RedBalloon - are fighting back. These employers understand the value of courageous workers who aren’t afraid to speak their minds.
May hard work and a good attitude be your protection from bias,
Laura, The Labor Lawyer
Please note that this post does not constitute legal advice on your specific situation, and you do not have an attorney-client relationship with Laura. If you have questions for Laura, please send to [email protected] Such questions may be used for general edification in this column.