Published On: Fri, Mar 1st, 2019

Does Your Boss Have the Right to Fire You Based on Your Political or Religious Beliefs?

While most know that their bosses cannot fire them based on their religious affiliation, cases of political discrimination are less clear-cut. Since 2016’s controversial elections, the debate hasn’t subsided, and protests continue. Many companies prevent arguments and reduce the risk of violence by prohibiting political discussions during the work day, but others take it further by trying to police their employees’ after-work activities. Read on to learn more about political and religious discrimination in the workplace.

photo Josh Janssen via Flickr

Can an Employer Prohibit Political Debates on the Job?

In most cases, they can. Employers have a legal, legitimate interest in ensuring the productivity of the workforce while preventing hostilities and violence. To further those interests, an employer may implement rules on political discussions, speech, and conduct. Private workplaces aren’t covered by the First Amendment, which means a person can legally be penalized for violating workplace policies on political speech.

There’s one notable exception: the NLRA or National Labor Relations Act protects discussions of employment terms and conditions. This might encompass topics such as candidates’ and politicians’ views on insurance, equal pay, healthcare reform, minimum wage, and other employment issues. Therefore, if a worker’s behaviour, slogan, sign, or clothing refers to a protected topic, it may be exempt.

Are Employers Required to Monitor Political Discussions?

Employers are obligated to ensure that workplace political activities don’t create a discriminatory work environment and that they comply with civil rights and equal employment opportunity laws. Conversations about racial profiling, police violence and harassment, immigration rights, and ancestry are more likely to lead to discrimination claims. A discussion on family leave rules, abortion rights, marriage equality, or the right to healthcare might bring a religious discrimination claim.

If a worker objects to discrimination based on pregnancy, race, sex, religion, or another protected characteristic, Title VII protects them from an employer’s retaliation. Because a political conversation may quickly devolve into a heated and perhaps violent debate, it’s best for employers to discourage workers from engaging in political activities during the workday.

Can a Person be Fired for Expressing Their Religious or Political Beliefs?

Religious discrimination is banned everywhere, but private employees have no protection from being disciplined or terminated because of their political views inside or outside the workplace. A public employee, such as a police officer, teacher, or government worker, cannot be disciplined or fired for their political speech and behaviours. However, they’re prohibited from performing political activities while they’re using public time or resources.

Some states have laws barring employer retaliation or discrimination based on outside political activities. Local discrimination lawyers often advise clients to be cautious when sharing their opinions and they should recognize that their after-work actions and social media posts may affect their jobs.

The Hatch Act

Employees in the public sector should consider the Hatch Act. All executive branch civilian employees are covered except for the Vice President and the President. Generally, the Hatch Act keeps federal employees from wearing politically partisan clothing and displaying signs while they’re on duty. Additionally, a federal employee cannot use his or her government email account to forward, send, or distribute partisan materials. To summarize, federal workers should avoid all political activities that require the use of their official position or title. If an employee violates the Hatch Act, they may be terminated.

In Closing

While religious discrimination is universally outlawed, politically-motivated firings and punishments are harder to prove. If you’ve been discriminated against, harassed, or fired based on your political views, you should consult a local attorney. With a lawyer’s help and legal advice, it’s easier to move on from allegations of political and religious discrimination.

Author: Laura Brown


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