Can You Get Fired for Your Political Beliefs?
Most American workers are employed at-will, which means that they can be fired for almost any reason, provided that it isn’t discriminatory – or none at all. If you’re worried about being fired for your political beliefs, you might hope that anti-discrimination laws will protect you. But, unfortunately, political affiliation isn’t a protected class like race, sex or religion.
In short, that means that it’s likely legal for your employer to terminate you for stumping for the “wrong” candidate or organizing a protest on your own time for a cause they don’t support.
Get Ready to Support States’ Rights
While federal law mostly stops short of protecting individuals against political discrimination from an employer, some states have enacted legislation to fill the gap. For example, in Michigan, it’s illegal for an employer to “discharge or threaten to discharge an employee of the person for the purpose of influencing the employee’s vote at an election.”
Meanwhile, California labor code prohibits an employer from “(1) limiting workers’ participation in politics; (2) barring employees from becoming candidates for public office; (3) requiring workers to adhere to any particular political action/activity; or (4) controlling or directing … political activities or affiliations of employees,” per labor and employment law firm Holland & Knight.
In addition, some states have laws that protect employees for political organizing done on their own time, outside work.
If you’re concerned about being fired or discriminated against based on your politics, it’s worth checking to see if state law protects you where federal law does not.
How to Protect Yourself, Regardless of Legal Status
If you’re an at-will employee and live an in area with no specific prohibitions against political discrimination, your best bet may be to keep a low profile:
1. Don’t discuss politics at work.
This is a good policy, even if your state law protects political activity. In fact, even if you’re pretty sure that most of your coworkers agree with you, it’s a good idea to keep politics out of the workplace.
Why? Well, for one thing, you can’t be sure that everyone at the office really does agree with you. It’s possible that one of your colleagues disagrees, but keeps quiet – and feels left out as a result. Not exactly a recipe for successful teamwork.
Further, it’s unlikely that you’ll agree with any one person on every single issue. If you’ve been on social media since the most recent presidential election, you know that even people on the same side can find something to fight about when it comes to political minutia.
2. Keep political organizing on your own time.
In general, it’s smart to keep personal stuff out of work. Don’t use your work time or equipment for your outside-of-work business, whether it’s related to politics or running an Etsy store or starting a consultancy. Work while you’re at work. If you never do anything sneaky, you never have to worry about getting caught.
3. Lock your social media accounts so that your off-hours activities aren’t visible to your boss.
Technology has blurred the lines between work life and personal life; don’t blur them further by leaving your feeds and profiles wide open for the boss to peruse.
Bottom line, you’re entitled to a personal life, even if labor law doesn’t always explicitly protect it. Don’t feel that you need to share every detail with your colleagues, whether in person or online.