We are weeks away from the presidential election. There is a lot in 2020 to have a political opinion about; whether it is POTUS, his opponent, the pandemic, healthcare, immigration, or other topics. You do not have a constitutional right of freedom of speech in the private workplace. The First Amendment restricts to a degree the government’s regulates your speech but does not restrict your private employer. It is tough to avoid having strong political views especially when it is rare to get news without a political spin. Having said that, it is best to keep your political views to yourself in the workplace unless you are truly among workers with whom you can have a civil conversation and even then, you should be careful.
In New Hampshire, you are considered an at-will employee and your employer can fire you with or without cause and with or without notice other than for certain statutory rights and some other limited exceptions, of which talking politics at work is not one of them. If you speak your mind as to: whom you think should be President of the United States; how to handle the pandemic; or a variety of political issues it could affect your career. While employers/owners are unlikely to fire you because of your political affiliations, if you get into a heated discussion about politics at the workplace, you may get fired or at a minimum written up. Further, even if you have a polite political discussion with a coworker who strongly disagrees with your views, your work relationship may suffer. This does not mean that you need to be part of the same political party as your boss and coworkers but most employers appreciate your ability to deflect conversations about politics at the workplace even if the owner asks you a political question, not related to work, and you deflect it.
There is, however, certain speech at work that is protected which is part of concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Concerted activity discussions, unlike political speech, are coworker discussions about a common concerns at the company. The discussion could, for example, be about overtime availability, workload, or compensation. All those discussions among coworkers are protected speech under the National Labor Relations Act. The employer should not fire or take other adverse employment action against the worker because of those discussions between coworkers. That said, it is difficult to disparage your boss and then expect to advance in the company. Simply put, just because you can does not mean you should. If you are looking for a new job because you do not like your supervisor, you should consider whether it is important to raise the complaints now or wait to alert the human resource manager at the exit interview after you have already searched for and accepted a new job so that the supervisor cannot retaliate with a bad reference.
I also note that I have several business clients in which the leaders truly wants to know from her workers what their concerns are and how to make the company better. Those leaders expect their workers to inform the leaders of concerns and suggested innovations to foster a creative and energetic team who take ownership in their jobs which is a win/win for all. However, in such companies, those leaders properly expect that a worker will act professional and not espouse strong political views with coworkers.
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].