7

You can get fired for talking politics at work

Fernando Sotelo (L) and Felipe Duran cast their ballots on the first day of early voting in Nevada at the Las Vegas Strip polling station Oct. 20, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nev. Depending on where you live, and what kind of company you work for, your boss can tell you who they want you to vote for. And they can fire you if you don't.

Can you be fired for talking politics at work? Not necessarily. There are a couple of states (notably, California) that prohibit it. And if you work for the government, have a contract or are a union member, this doesn't apply to you.

But the majority of Americans employed in the private sector work "at will." According to law professor emeritus Joseph Little at the University of Florida, that means you are free to leave at any time, for any reason. That gives your boss a lot of latitude, too.

"An employer may fire the employee at will," Little said, adding, "For any reason. With no consequences."

Some of that pressure may be subtle, but in some cases it's explicit.

"I had a man within the last year tell me that he would fire any employee who voted the wrong way," Little said.

And unlike specially protected status like race or gender, if your boss fires you because of your politics, there's not a whole lot you can do about it.

"Under these circumstances, I think the employee has very little recourse," Little said, "Except, perhaps if the employer presses about how to vote: forget who you voted for."

That gets to the heart of the issue. Pressure in the workplace, if any, is likely to be subtle, but could have a measurable impact on how (and to what extent) you express yourself.

"My guess is that employees at will would be very reluctant to show their support for the opposing candidate," Little said.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Log in to post7 Comments

The inadequate reporting here was a serious missed opportunity.
I mean, how could the question of how a boss can even KNOW who an employee votes for NOT have been asked? This, in addition to not fully explaining if firing explicitly because of a vote satisfies "at will" terms, was a major failure.
In so being, the critical chance to empower the potential victim was missed.

This story never covered the answer to a question I had from the very beginning: How would an employer know for whom their employees are voting? Votes are confidential.

Promo: Next up, folks, this question: Why did Kai Ryssdal ask a retired Florida professor about the "at will" employment rule when a California lawyer would have answered better?

Kai Rysdal's story today was lame and highly misleading. Big surprise.

First, the retired prof in Florida phrased the "at will" rule very deceptively. The full rule states, "You can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all." Except that only a very few right-wing Southern states still abide by that rule (Florida being one of them). The vast majority observe and enforce many important legal safeguards against wrongful discharge.

Second, Kai Ryssdal raised the question via his own promo 'Can your boss tell you who to vote for?' ... and then he punted and answered some other question no one asked. It's a sign of defective thinking or mendacious reporting to answer a question no one has asked when you promised an answer to something everyone wants to know.

The quick answer Ryssdal missed is: "No, in the vast majority of states your boss can't fire you for not voting the way he wants you to, even if you are bold enough to tell him how you voted. And if he demands to know and you value your privacy, you don't have to tell him! To fire you for either of these acts likely would be considered a violation of an important public policy of the state -- concepts Kai Ryssdal is unfamiliar with, concepts like "liberty" and the very concept of "democracy."

"At will employment" or no, you've got a case strong enough to get to a jury in 45 of the 50 states. Florida, as usual, is an exception. That's why Kai Ryssdal went all the way across the country to ask a washed-up Florida prof for the answer instead of making a local call.

Publicity is the cure. Make sure the world knows. I won't do business with anyone who fires someone for voting.

This is the sort of issue that should be covered by a constitutional right to privacy. It isn't your boss's business how you vote, or even if you vote. It's the sort of irrelevant issue that ought to be kept out of the workplace, along with many others. One of the reasons I support universal health care is that it's a distraction from (and detriment to) a business's core mission, just like privacy invasions.

I got fired once, the day after the election. The Democrat won, and I had his sticker on my car and the mouth-breather fired me.
I doubt many Republicans get fired by Democrats, unless it's somebody famous who's a jerk anyway.
Firing someone and wrecking his life seems more like something a Republican would do, since so few of them seem to have a conscience, anyway.

With Generous Support From...