Can You Be Punished At Work For Your Political Views?
When it comes to politics, some of us are more active, outgoing or vocal, than others. You may want to express your political viewpoints at work, whether verbally, or by displaying political figures, posters, or memorabilia, at your place of work. You may even engage in political activities outside of work. But can you be fired, or punished by your employer, for doing these things?
Political Viewpoints are Protected
The general answer is no, you can’t be punished for your political viewpoints. Your boss cannot, for example, fire you because he is a democrat and you are a republican. Your employer also can’t do anything that restricts you from running for office, or from doing anything that affects your participation in politics, elections, or the political process.
Not only is it illegal for an employer to punish you for doing any of these things, your employer also cannot compel you to assist in a political campaign, or require you to support any political viewpoint or candidate.
Limitations and Exceptions
But that restriction is somewhat limited, because there are almost so many exceptions to that rule, that employers do have some leeway to punish or restrict employees for their political viewpoints.
One exception is that participation cannot affect your job performance, or job duties. So, for example, a teacher, who is charged with being neutral in the classroom, and whose job prohibits indoctrination of young minds, could be restricted from expressing a political viewpoint in the classroom.
You could be punished, if your political activity would negatively affect the reputation of your employer. So, for example, if you participated in a rally that became violent, and you were part of the unrest, your employer could terminate you, as what you did could negatively affect the reputation of the business.
You could be punished at work, if your political actions were just simply affecting your job performance. For example, if you were so busy managing your friend’s political campaign at work, that you weren’t doing your job.
Hostile Work Environment?
As a general rule, your political belief is not a protected class, so it isn’t protected by federal law. While California law prohibits your employer from punishing you for your political viewpoint, it isn’t as clear whether there is a claim for hostile work environment, the way there is under federal employment discrimination laws.
For example, if you were a democrat, and your co-employees constantly made fun of democrats, or hung anti-democrat posters, or passed insulting emails about democrats, it is an open question whether your employer could be held liable for simply allowing an environment to exist that is antagonistic to your chosen political views.
Remember that your right to speak your political opinion can be limited, because if you work at a private (non governmental) employer, your speech is not protected by the first amendment.
Contact the San Jose employment law lawyers at the Costanzo Law Firm today for help understanding your rights as an employee at work.