Politics are on the minds of many of all of us now, yet we should be cautious about if and how we share our political opinions in the workplace. Most employees in New Hampshire and Massachusetts are at-will employees, which means they can be fired with or without cause and with or without notice except for certain limited reasons under the law. A private employee is not protected from being fired for expressing his political opinions in the workplace. Freedom of speech prevents the government from taking actions to affect certain speech of you, including your speech about politics, but does not force a private employer to allow your political speech in the workplace.
That being said, employee morale would likely decrease thereby decreasing productivity if an employer fired an employee because the owner’s views of politics differ from the expressed views of his employee. Furthermore, if a fired employee believes that he has been treated unfairly and goes to an attorney, that attorney may find other reasons to bring claims against the employer unrelated to the firing and also firing an employee for merely having conflicting political views from the owner will not prevent that employee from receiving unemployment compensation as a result of the firing which ultimately increases the costs to the employer.
A political dispute, whether it is with your fellow co-employee, subordinate, or a boss, in which you overtly state or infer that her political views are inferior to your own because she picked, in your opinion, the wrong political party or candidate can create friction between you and that fellow co-employee. Management should intervene when it receives notice of such a heated political dispute just as it would with another workplace conflict. Further, if one of the employees is going around espousing his political views to his fellow co-employees, even though he is not having a heated dispute with his co-employees, if management believes he is being disruptive, management can and should intervene. Lastly, employees should be careful as to how they express their political beliefs in social media outside of the workplace. Expressing your support for a particular candidate in social media should have no impact on your work just as putting a sign on your front lawn should not. However, expressing your frustration as to a particular political figure to the level where you are suggesting violence against political figure not only could result in your getting a visit from certain government officials, but the employer may, justifiably, decide that your at-will employment is terminated because you could be a risk to other fellow employees or customers. While management is generally not permitted to gain access to the private social media accounts of its employees, if one of those workers reports to management that another co-employee on his account made a threat of violence management should speak with its attorney to see what steps, if any, are appropriate to take. Once management has knowledge of a threat or indications of potential violence by an employee, management needs to make an assessment as to what, if anything, should be done based upon the information obtained. Ignoring the information because of its source is not a viable option.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].