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Can I Be Fired for Expressing a Political Opinion?

If you’ve grown weary of seeing political posts when you sign onto social media you are not alone. Many people have abandoned their social media accounts or limit their use simply because they are overwhelmed with the content featured by their friends and family.

On the other hand, you might be someone who welcomes debate over political issues, especially in the current political climate and with the upcoming election. Many people enjoy discussing the issues and social media is often the most inviting place to do so because it’s convenient and allows everyone to share their thoughts.

Unfortunately, voicing your political opinion can become more complicated than just letting friends and family know how you feel about an issue.

Many people believe their Constitutional right to free speech permits them to say anything they want about any topic. Though the First Amendment protects speed and allows you to speak freely and openly, it only guarantees protection from government persecution, not from personal repercussions. You won’t end up in prison for saying something controversial, but you can end up losing your job. Furthermore, speech intended to incite lawless action is not protected at all, and even statements made as jokes can get you into a great deal of trouble if they are perceived as threats.

Employment at Will

In most cases, companies do have a right to terminate someone who acts in a way that reflects poorly on his or her employer, including politically themed social media posts. Employees working in states with employment-at-will laws can be fired for any reason at any time, and can also quit under the same broad circumstances. This means if you express a political opinion online or anywhere else your employer does not like, the company could let you go without explanation.

There are gray areas when it comes to circumstances such as this. Even if you work in a state with at-will laws, not everyone works in an at-will environment. For instance, employees covered by union collective bargaining agreements are governed by specific clauses in a given contract. Civil service workers can also only be fired under specific instances that include “just cause.” And finally, if you signed an employment contract that included terms and conditions for termination, your employer will need more reason than just your opposing political opinions to let you go.

It’s also important to note that many political or “hot topic” issues discussed online relate to protected groups. An employer could point to a political discussion online, when in fact the reason for letting an employee go is related to a protected class. An employer must prove it’s the political belief and not the membership in a political class that was the cause for termination, so it’s easy to see why situations such as this could get dicey and result in a drawn-out legal battle.

Voicing Your Opinion

So what should you do if you are concerned voicing your political opinions online could result in dismissal from your job?

It’s really a personal choice. If you are willing to lose your job over an issue, you might choose to speak out about how you feel. However, if you don’t want to put your job at risk, it might be better to stay silent. Of course, this varies from issue to issue. Part of being an adult in America is knowing when it’s time to speak up and when it’s better to keep your opinion off social media.

Regardless of your political opinion and whether or not you choose to voice it online, if you are terminated from your job for reasons you believe were unlawful, you have a right to take action. We’re always happy to answer any of your questions or hear your concerns about an event or situation you believe could be unlawful. For more information, contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.

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