After one of the most divisive presidential elections, political talk is dominating our lives. There is no doubt that politics can be a controversial topic, especially in the workplace. Employees may be tempted to discuss politics on social media, in breakrooms, or elsewhere while at work. In fact, many questions about free speech in the workplace were raised this month when a Google engineer was fired after his criticism of the company’s diversity efforts became public. However, what you may not know is for private-sector employees, this type of speech is not protected by the 1st Amendment’s free speech clause. At Lardiere McNair, we are here to help make sure as an employee or business owner you understand the current workplace laws and how they can affect you or your business.
Employees and business owners alike should be aware of the discrimination laws that apply to their place of employment and business, which usually consist of the National Labor Relations Act or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In general, workplace anti-discrimination laws only protect people based on age, gender, religious beliefs, minorities, and those with disabilities. However, these anti-discrimination laws DO NOT protect free speech. Many courts still following the reasoning of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. on this issue stating that an employee has a constitutional right to free speech, but not to be employed. This is because a person’s right to free speech limits the government from regulating their speech, but does not limit their employer. As a result, employees may find themselves unemployed because of a political rant, but unable to allege a violation of their free speech rights.
Employees can minimize their political discussions at work by practicing some of these habits: knowing the right time and place to discuss politics, knowing when to change the subject or walk away, staying neutral when possible, and using social media minimally.
Employers can decrease the frequency and volume of political discussion in the workplace by doing some of the following things: setting goals for employees that will pull attention from politics, not micromanaging employees’ social media usage, and encouraging positive conversations about issues that are important to employees.
Alexandria Nagel is a Law Clerk at Lardiere McNair, LLC. To read more about our firm, please visit www.lmcounsel.com.
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