Political Discrimination in the Workplace

In light of the controversial campaign season that has now enveloped the country, strong opinions during political discussions are likely to arise in the workplace. This can become a debilitating issue for employers and their teams if political conversations become heated between coworkers. Knowing what is fair in the workplace and if there are discrimination laws or policies that protect those who hold a different political ideology than their employers or coworkers is a challenge to understand.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal for employers to make job decisions based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex. The Age Discrimination Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibit discrimination based on age, disability, and genetic information. However, political views are not covered by these laws and the laws of most states.

Discrimination based on politics happens when an employer makes job decisions because of an employee’s political beliefs or party affiliation. For example, if an employer refuses to hire applicants who vote Republican, or terminates anyone who supports pro-life, is engaged in political discrimination. Today I will help you avoid political pitfalls that can divide your team and damage your company culture.

Can you limit political disclosure in the workplace?

A private-sector employer can limit political activities during work hours and prohibit the display and circulation of political materials. Political activities such as soliciting coworkers can create tension or division in your employee team and lower productivity. Communicating with employees the intention behind your decision is imperative to avoiding employees feeling repressed or censored. It’s important to remember that as a private-sector employer if you choose to restrict political activity in the workplace to make sure it applies to all ideologies and does not favor a particular political party or ideology.

Is political affiliation a protected class under the law?

Employers are allowed to limit political activity at the workplace but should avoid treating employees differently based on their political affiliation. Not every state has a specific law protecting political affiliation, but political issues can easily be misconstrued as a person’s prejudice based on gender, race, or age. There is a thin line between political biases and what can be interpreted as discrimination on a protected class, and it’s best to keep that line very clear. For example, if an African-American employee is fired for participating in a Black Lives Matter rally, but other employees are not fired for going to other types of protests, it could be seen as illegal race discrimination.

The First Amendment

The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees our rights to free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, petitioning the government for a redress of grievances, and freedom to exercise our religious beliefs. It is a common mistake to believe that it would protect employees from discrimination based on their political views. However, only employees who work for the federal, state, or local governments are protected by the First Amendment and have the right to file a claim if fired for their political beliefs. The political affiliations of employees working for private employers are not covered under the First Amendment.

Different states have different laws

Not all states have laws about political discrimination in the workplace, and it is essential to do your homework to know what you can legally uphold in your workplace. California law protects employees from discrimination based on their political affiliations and activities, and New York and the District of Columbia have similar laws. Oregon and Wisconsin have laws that protect employees from being penalized for refusing to attend meetings if their employer is communicating its political or religious opinions. Some states protect private employees from workplace discrimination based on their political beliefs or activities, and others do not. Make sure you know what your state’s laws are before you make any policies for your business.

In conclusion, federal law does not protect private employees from discrimination based on their political affiliation. However, some states do protect employees from certain types of political bias. To keep your workplace productive and cohesive, think twice before inviting politics into your company culture. It will save you from the blurry line between political discrimination and what can be conveyed as discrimination on a protected class of race, religion, or age. Election time is here and has the potential to create tension and upset in your business. It is your responsibility to provide a fair and safe work environment for your employees.