These days just about everyone has political opinions. Some of your workers likely have very passionately held beliefs that lead to activism. But when you can you discipline or dismiss an employee who’s engaged in disruptive political expression? You have to tread lightly, and you should seek legal counsel before making any decisions. However, here are a few useful tips:
- As a private employer, you have the right to fire an employee because of his/her off-duty political expression or participation in protests with only a few limits.
- Make sure employees understand that the First Amendment doesn’t mean they can say or do anything without consequences. This law protects against government action, not action by a private employer. For example, there are many instance of employees being fired for hate speech.
- Know and heed state laws, some of which have surprising provisions. For instance, some states protect workers from discrimination based on political affiliations and activities.
- Focus on the impact of the people’s words/actions on the workplace, not the content of the expression. For instance, are they keeping others from doing their jobs? Are they causing others to feel threatened? Are they damaging the organization’s reputation? Remember, you can and should enforce civil discourse in the workplace.
- Of course, people who commit crimes as part of their activism, such as breaking into buildings or committing vandalism, aren’t entitled to protections and can be lawfully terminated. However, don’t make decisions based on rumors or assumptions. Properly investigate the matter.