When Can an Employer Fire You for Politics?

When Can an Employer Fire You for Politics?When Can an Employer Fire You for Politics?

Politics affects everyone, even if we don’t think so. Your taxes are affected by politics, in addition to local housing and urban development, which impacts how much traffic is in your area.

Some employers have a substantial interest in elections, hoping for certain politicians to win, possibly for business interests. As a result, sometimes employers don’t act within their boundaries. We would like to think that most of the time they do, however. There are several limitations set upon employers in New Jersey regarding their firing practices, including:

What Employers Cannot Do

  • Employers cannot threaten injury or loss in relation to an employee’s voting activities. They may also not punish employees for their voting behavior.
  • The freedom to vote as one wishes is protected by U.S. law. Employers can compel employees to vote a certain way due to fear of retribution, but this is illegal.
  • Employers cannot include in compensation materials any information that seeks to sway the political opinions or actions of employees.
  • Your employer provides sustenance for you to be able to keep the lights on. Any politically motivated information in compensation materials could be an attempt to manipulate employees.
  • Display a visible notice to employees within 90 days before an election, either online or in an establishment, that threatens to reduce compensation or conduct layoffs depending on election results.
  • This usually has the intention of influencing employees to vote a certain way to avoid consequences, which may or may not happen.
  • Employees cannot be forced to participate in employer-sponsored meetings or communications regarding the employer’s political stances regarding issues or candidates. These requests can be allowed however, if employees have the right to refuse participation without retaliation.[1]
  • Employers who would otherwise do this may try to use their workforce to change election results, more likely in state and local elections. This can be done discretely. Depending on the size of the employer and their workforce, some may have more impact.

Private Employees

It should be reminded that the employment relationship between the employee and employer is generally at-will. This means that employees can be fired for any reason, or for no reason at all, unless a law is violated. One such law is based on the illegality of discrimination, such as race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or religion. New Jersey law also prohibits firing due to complaining about discrimination, asking for adjustments or accommodation due to a disability, or calling out illegal company actions (whistleblowing).

Let’s say you are speaking out or protesting about a broader societal issue, such as Black Lives Matter or white supremacy. There is no federal law that would definitively protect private employees from retaliation for protesting about societal issues. Some states have federal protection for off-duty political activity, such as California, however.

Public Employees

If you are a public employee, you may have further protections that a private employee may not have. For example, if you are speaking out about a public issue during protesting, an employer may be restricted from firing you, if your actions are not criminal. This only applies if you are speaking in your role as a private citizen, not as a public employee. A public employee may not wear any insignia that could give off the impression that they are speaking for their employer if they are protesting. Protesting during working hours or on company time could give the same impression, so this should be avoided.

If posting on social media, providing a disclaimer that the views are your own and are not representative of your employer could offer protection.

Even so, if the employer’s need to run their government services efficiently outweighs your public employee’s free speech interests, the law is on the side of the employer.

Make no mistake, the right to peacefully protest is guaranteed in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law… [abridging] the right of the people to peacefully assemble.”[2] While you are free to do so, the law does not always protect you from employment-related retaliation.

Public Relations

An example of employer retaliation was made against Juli Briskman, who in 2017 flipped off Trump’s motorcade. A photographer caught her giving the bird and she was subsequently fired from her job at a government contracting agency. Although she took the company to court, she was not able to get her job back. She did, however, successfully run for public office.[3]

When a company starts inconsistently enforcing policies that advocate or espouse a certain political view, they could be in trouble. Tolerating some political speech and not others by cracking down on certain employees could hurt their public profile. For example, Starbucks had initially prohibited employee association with Black Lives Matter but allowed association with LGBTQ through buttons and attire. This inconsistency made many negative headlines for the company.[4]

From a public relations standpoint, firing workers for espousing their political views is almost like treading water. It could end up causing backlash and reduce their standing in communities. It could also lead to a boycott, a “concerted refusal to have dealings [or engage] with (a person, a store, an organization, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.”[5] Nonviolent means of getting one’s point across can have significant influence on a national or state level and can lead executives to be in the hot seat.

Workers’ Compensation

Lastly, an employer cannot fire you for filing a workers’ compensation claim. This is illegal. Although you may be fired while you are filing a workers’ compensation claim, the employer will most likely make up a crafty reason, such as corporate restructuring. Chances are, however, that your termination is retaliation for taking the step to protect yourself, and your finances. While filing a workers’ compensation claim, it is important to hire an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can prosecute your employer for such retaliation. At the Workplace Lawyers, we have dealt with all sorts of claims employers make to justify firing their employees and are aware of how to counter them. For more information, reach out to us for a free case evaluation.


[1] Mateo-Harris, G. I. (2016, October 31). Politics in the Workplace: A State-By-State Guide. SHRM. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/politics-at-work.aspx

[2] Library of Congress. (n.d.). U.S. Constitution – First Amendment | Resources. Constitution Annotated. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-1/

[3] Riemer, H. B. (n.d.). Can You Get Fired for Protesting at Work? 7 Things to Know. Fairygodboss. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://fairygodboss.com/career-topics/protesting-at-work#

[4] Elejalde-Ruiz, A. (2020, June 15). Can You Get Fired for Protesting? Or Spouting Off on Social Media? Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-protests-employee-free-speech-rights-20200615-7p35qpxjrzelpikcle67g4nciu-story.html

[5] Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Boycott Definition & Meaning. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/boycott

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