POTUS is an acronym for the President of the United States. Many people have strong opinions, some negative and some positive, about the President. However, for most employees it would be a mistake for them to think they have the right of freedom of speech to express their political opinions in the private work place. Freedom of speech relates to restrictions on the government’s imposition of restrictions on your freedom of speech and not your private employer.
Most employees are in an at-will employment relationship which means that they can quit or be fired with or without notice and/or cause other than for specific exceptions which do not include a right to political speech. As such, this would not prohibit a private employer from taking an adverse employment action including firing an employee who is expressing his/her political opinions at work. While it is certainly not common for an owner of a company to fire an employee who does not share the same political beliefs, it is more common that heated political discussions jeopardize an employee’s career path. For example, if two employees with differing political opinions as to the presidential impeachment process get into a heated discussion, the supervisor may react with any anything from a written warning to one or both of them to firing one or both depending on how heated the discussion became, especially if it leads to a physical altercation. Even if management does not get involved rebuking the employees for their heated political discussion, employees are team members and as such team members rely on the cohesiveness of the team for all team members’ success. Divisive behavior or speech with coworkers can negatively affect your career path.
Certain speech among co-workers related to work is deemed a concerted activity that is protected under federal law being the National Labor Relations Act. For example, employees can generally speak to each other about their compensation and can speak to each other as to whether or not their boss is doing a good job. While the employer is prohibited from taking any adverse employment against them for such concerted activity, the practical reality is that your career path usually depends on your boss’ opinion of you so disparaging your boss or talking openly about your compensation is not prudent if you are looking to move up in the company.
In conclusion, it is often prudent to avoid expressing strong views about political figures in the workplace and when others do respond by redirecting the conversation. For example, if someone has a strong desire to talk about the presidential impeachment process, perhaps you can ask the person to explain the process between the House and Senate and somewhere in that explanation you can follow up with questions to redirect the conversation to a less divisive political discussion that does not require you to express your opinion on a political figure. Or you can simply respond that you prefer not to discuss politics and redirect the conversation to a less controversial topic like pets.
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].