Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘time off for voting’

Where do we draw the line on political speech in the workplace?

Monday, November 7th, 2016

17547163106_3874c2b4d7_k_2This year’s election has stirred up a lot of controversy, arguably more than the most recent elections. Everyone is talking about the election, whether it is in person or online. Sex, politics, religion, money; these are things we were told not to talk about, especially at work. But now, in this new age of technology, even if we don’t talk about it at the office people can still find out our views if we post online. What rules apply to the workplace and where do we draw the line?

 

Political speech

There seems to be a fine line between what type of political speech is and is not acceptable in the workplace. Federal Law prohibits government employers from restricting free speech in the workplace because of the 1st Amendment. However, private employers do not have the same restriction. In some states, employers may be able to express their political beliefs as long as they are not coercing any employees to vote for or contribute funds to a specific candidate. However, encouraging donations is fine. Other places only allow a company to express its beliefs by expressing its views on which side of each issue is best for the future of the company. Are employees held to the same standard?

What can employees talk about at work? Friends talk about politics outside of work, but what if you are friends with your coworkers? Some employees may be fine with talking about politics with each other. However, if these conversations happen at work where other employees can hear them, they might be offending someone. Employers can regulate as they see fit through their own workplace policies but there aren’t any laws governing this. Some might think offensive political speech would amount to a hostile working environment. However, federal and state laws do not consider political speech as a basis to prove a workplace is hostile. Should employees be able to talk about politics that deal with workers rights, like health care, minimum wage laws, and working conditions? Do employers have the right to restrict this type of speech through their policies? And what happens when someone’s views differs than the boss’s?

Retaliation and discrimination

There are only a few states with laws prohibiting retaliation against employees for their political beliefs. Employees may be fired or passed up for promotions just for having opposing political beliefs from their boss. Even if an employee doesn’t talk about their beliefs at work, an employer can use what they find on the Internet against you. If you post political speech on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other form of social media, your employer can find out about it. But what about your coworkers, can they discriminate against you?

A recent article talked about coworkers using political speech to harass a Hispanic woman. They changed her computer screensaver to pictures of Trump. They also told her to go back to Mexico and called her an illegal immigrant, even though she was born in America. This woman was eventually fired and told, “Illegal immigrants can’t vote or work. Good luck finding a job.” Is this political speech enough to consider the workplace hostile, even though the law doesn’t recognize this as a basis for discrimination? This woman and her lawyers are not taking that chance. They are filing a lawsuit against the company for racial discrimination, which is actually recognized by federal and state law. How do we stop these things from happening when race becomes such a major topic in political debates?

Solutions

If political speech is so controversial, why not ban it from the workplace? Do we ban all of it or just what may cause employees to feel uncomfortable? Many private companies have their own regulations, but how do they efficiently regulate it? Employees donate money and time to political campaigns, post to social media, and vote outside of work on their own time. Now that we can access technology anywhere, should employers ban political speech online during work hours? Should certain websites be blocked or monitored?

What about voting privileges? Most states require employers to allow employees to take time off work to vote. Some states are stricter than others by restricting how much time can be taken off work, the amount of notice required, or by including exceptions, but employers must comply. If they have to let employees vote during work hours, can they really regulate anything else they do during this time?

For more information about voting rights in each state visit WorkplaceFairness.org.

Angelic Papacalos is a law student at American University Washington College of Law and an intern for Workplace Fairness.

Check Laws to Learn if You Can Take Time Off to Vote

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Image: James Parks

Each American citizen 18 years old or older has a right to vote and most—not all—have the right to take time off to vote. Thirty-three states have laws on the books requiring employers to give workers time off to cast a vote. The District of Columbia and 17 states do not.

With so much at stake in Tuesday’s election, working families are mobilizing to get out every vote. So, it is important to know if you can get time off to vote or if you have to go before or after work. To find out what the law is in your state, visit the website www.CanMyBossDoThat.com.

The new site offers an interactive list of laws in each state and Washington, D.C. The site also provides links to the specific laws, which differ from state to state. For example, in Minnesota, workers can take time in the morning on Election Day, but not the afternoon. In Massachusetts, only mechanical, retail and manufacturing workers can take time off. The law in North Dakota doesn’t require employers to let employees off to vote, it only “suggests” that they do it.

The site also provides information on which states protect workers from retaliation based on how they vote or because of political activity outside of work. As many people learned when a woman was fired for her John Kerry bumper sticker in Alabama in 2004, without state protection, workers are not protected from retaliation for their political views or how they vote.

Says Anne Janks, director of the site:

These new resources will help workers understand if they have any rights and how to get the time off to vote. We also hope that states which do not give these most basic rights to ensure a vibrant democracy will consider passing protections for their citizens.

So check the site to see what your rights are, but, by all means, make sure to vote Nov. 2.

CanMyBossDoThat.com is a non-profit website with more than 750 pages educating workers about their rights. Many employment rights are based on state laws. Topics also outline federal and state-specific protections. The site was started in 2009 by Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) to provide clear, usable, specific information for workers and their advocates.

To read more information about your voting rights as it relates to employment, visit Workplace Fairness’ Voting Rights Page.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris

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