Published On: Wed, Feb 24th, 2021

Can Being A Trump Supporter Get You Fired Or Not Hired?

With a polarized political environment unlike anything in recent memory, many Americans wonder if they can be penalized by an employer for political speech. First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech center on government censorship, not private enterprise, leading many to worry whether their employer has unlimited leeway to influence, curtail, or punish speech.

This is especially noteworthy in Arizona, where the race for president was especially tight, and some people consider it by no means settled. Although Phoenix saw Election Day come and go without any violence or unrest, that does not mean the results of a harsh campaign season can’t be felt.

Employers Have Extraordinary Power Over Employees’ Conduct While at Work

Gone are the days when bosses could offer bribes or even make outright threats to compel employees to engage – or not engage – in civic behavior. But those days are not as far away as they might seem, and a long history of court rulings favoring employers over employees has meant workers often have little legal recourse against what might seem like abuses of authority.

The Bill of Rights does not protect workers from firing for speech either inside or outside the workplace. This leads some workers with strong political beliefs to inquire whether other protections might apply, such as federal antidiscrimination laws.

The federal definition of a “protected group” precludes much hope.

Federal Law Does Not Recognize Political Affiliations as “Protected Groups”

Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and disability. It is unlawful to terminate an employee due to belonging to a protected group, whether part of one such group or several. However, political affiliation is not included as a protected category.

Arizona law recognizes the doctrine of “at-will employment,” which allows an employer to terminate an employee at any reason and at any time without notice. The employment relationship is held to be like a contract which other party may choose to terminate at any time.

This has been taken to mean that Arizona employers can fire their employees for “any reason or no reason” without restriction, as long as no federal discrimination protection factors are involved. This extends to both the hiring process and continued employment.

Arizona State Law Does Not Provide Additional Protection for Political Speech in the Workplace

When it comes to Arizona employers, the situation is “do as I say, not as I do.”

While Arizona employers may respond severely to employees’ political speech, they are held to only a handful of standards. These are meant to curtail active pressure by employers to vote a certain way.

In Arizona, employers are prohibited from coercing employees to support (or not support) a referendum or recall. They are also barred from including in compensation materials any statements with the intent of influencing political beliefs or activities. Within 90 days before an election, they may not display any form of notice intended to influence employees’ choice of candidate.

Aside from these rules, “political speech” of a business enjoys broad protections ensured by the 2010 Citizens United decision, where the Supreme Court ruled that businesses are free to endorse political candidates and even campaign for them. Businesses may spend unlimited money in these pursuits.

A 2016 study by Harvard University found 25% of respondents received politically focused messages from their boss. Most of those surveyed said there should be limits to campaigning in the workplace.

What Constitutes Political Speech or Activity?

In some states, “political speech” is defined by statute. This enables people to act according to their rights in that state. No prevailing definition exists in Arizona, nor has Phoenix enacted any laws that might shed light on the matter. That leaves it to employer discretion.

Employers can interpret any of these as political speech:

  • Choice of attire (“Trump 2020” shirt or MAGA hat)
  • Posts made on Twitter, Facebook, or other websites
  • Content of discussions with co-workers or customers
  • Political paraphernalia (bumper stickers, pins, and so on)

Note that in some cases, legitimate business concerns may already preclude certain forms of speech. For example, if you work at a restaurant or hotel with a strict dress code, you are already expected to be in uniform, and could be reprimanded for any breach of those guidelines – whether political or not.

If You Lose Your Job or Are Not Hired, You Can Still Sue

Although the law as it stands clearly gives power over employee speech to employers, it is within your rights to pursue a civil lawsuit if you suspect you have lost a job or not been hired due to your beliefs. Bear in mind, however, that such cases are difficult to prove, since they often hinge on internal communication at the workplace that is not documented. Make sure to find an employment lawyer to protect your rights. 

Author: DKM

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