Employers and Politics: The Professional Consequences of Political Beliefs

By Leigha Wentz, Executive Editor

As the 2016 election finally draws to a close, it may seem like an odd time to address the effects of political social media posts on professional lives. Months of dodging, writing, liking and hiding posts from every aspect of the political spectrum have left the majority of Facebook and Twitter users fairly drowning in waves of opinions and, with Election Day finally in sight, it may seem natural to post that last pro-Clinton statement or share the Trump campaign’s latest call to “Make America Great Again”. With the majority of newsfeeds dominated by politics, one more tweet is unlikely to affect anyone. Right?

Maybe.

In February of 2015, and a year later in 2016, the New York Times and the Huffington Post both published articles addressing the potential fallout from posting political preferences online. Almost exactly a year apart, the two articles focused on the experiences of professionals in varying industries and locations, and the consensus was relatively similar: Online political activism can affect one’s professional life. In fact, depending on a job’s location, expressing political views online and in the office can actually lead to unemployment.

According to the New York Times, nonunion, private employees are not protected under the First Amendment if they choose to express their political opinions publicly. Although federal law prohibits the termination of jobs based on race, religion and gender, there is no federal law guaranteeing protection based on an individual’s political affiliation or activities.

The decision to protect politically-active employees is often based on state law, with California and New York providing the broadest protection. Both states, in addition to Colorado, North Dakota, and the District of Columbia have laws limiting prohibiting the laying off of employees based on their political beliefs and activities outside of the workplace, as reported by the Huffington Post.

Participating in political activities or posting opinions after hours can carry their own risks as employers pay more and more attention to social media profiles. As quoted by the New York Times, Lee Tien, a lawyer from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, warned that private activities posted online are still easily accessible to employers, including photos taken at the latest political rally or statements criticizing political candidates.

However, employees are not completely unprotected. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 makes it illegal for federal employers to discriminate based on political affiliation.

According to the Huffington Post, employers in Michigan and Oregon are forbidden from threatening employees in order to influence their vote, and Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky have laws in place to protect employees from the threat of being laid off if a particular candidate is elected.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 8th print edition.

Contact Leigha at

leigha.wentz@student.shu.edu

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