With the presidential election around the corner, politics are on many people’s minds. While talking politics always has the potential to be contentious, this year’s election has brought out strong emotions in voters. To minimize the amount of conflict in the workplace, some employers have forbidden workers from discussing politics while on the clock. But is a restriction like this legal? Can an employer forbid you from voicing your opinion?
Many people assume that the First Amendment protect their right to say whatever they want at work without consequence. This is not the case. The First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting what its citizens can say; for instance, it would be unconstitutional for the State of California to forbid citizens from speaking about the election. However, the rules are different for private employers.
Private companies which are not operated by the government have every right to ensure that their employees remain focused on their work rather than on outside distractions like the most recent presidential debate. In general, a private employer can take steps to curb political discussions among employees while at work.
However, employers do not have total control over their employees’ political activities. In California, an employer cannot force employees to participate in political activities and cannot control a person’s political affiliation or threaten to fire someone for voting a certain way. Also, state law prohibits an employer from adopting a rule or policy that prohibits an employee from running for office or engaging in politics on his or her own time.
While an employer has the ability to curtail distracting discussions, the employer might not be able to forbid all political discussions entirely. For example, if an employee is volunteering for a political campaign, that person might discuss those activities at work. A blanket policy that bans all political discussions could infringe on that employee’s right to engage in politics.
Additionally, employers who express a strong preference for a particular candidate may be violating the law. A boss who pressures employees to vote one way or the other or gives preference to employees who think similarly, that employer may have crossed the line.
If political discussions or activities at work make employees feel uncomfortable or you feel discriminated against because of your political views, you may have a legal claim against your employer. To find out more about your options, speak with an experienced California employment law attorney.