Another Presidential election in emotionally charged times weighs on Americans. Political discussions around the proverbial office watercooler abound. Some folks join in praising the person you support; others sound off against that candidate. But when the boss stops by for a paper cone of refreshing H20, the conversation cools. You’ve heard the boss doesn’t like political talk in the workplace, and it has left you all concerned. You wonder to yourself: “Can I be fired because of my political beliefs?” For Texans, the short answer is yes.
First, a discussion of legality: it is legal for private (non-government) employers in Texas to have meetings to discuss political issues, send emails encouraging voting and civic participation, or even arrange for members of staff to spend time volunteering at political events. It is also legal for employers to publicly support a specific candidate and strongly suggest that their employees do the same. These employers can share with all employees the political stance of their companies, including emphatic encouragement to vote for or against specific candidates running for political office, because employers are protected by the US Constitution’s First Amendment which stipulates freedom of speech. Many employers enjoy this protection as they attempt to influence their employees and shape the way they vote.
It is also legal for employers to limit or prohibit general political discussions and political campaigning by staff in the workplace, even as they might choose to be politically vocal themselves. The only way employees legally can discuss politics in work environments where it has been prohibited is if those discussions are couched in conversations about working conditions—this according to the National Labor Relations Act. For instance, if an employer sends out an email in support of a specific candidate, suggesting that it is in the best interest of staff members to also support that candidate, employees’ discussion of that email and its contents is not prohibited. So, if any mention is made during that discussion of the rival candidate that highlights the pros (or cons) of his or her opposing platform, it also is not prohibited. Even if employees take care to leave political commentary at home when the boss has such a policy, they might tip their hand inadvertently during labor relations discussions. It is in cases like this that concerns might arise regarding job security.
So, in Texas, what actions can your employer legally take against you or other employees in light of how you vote or for the political beliefs you hold? Can your employer retaliate? Federal law does not designate political affiliation as a protected class for employees of private sector employers, and neither does Texas state law. (Only a handful of states have legal protections against an employer’s discrimination or retaliation on the books.) The non-profit organization Workplace Fairness clarifies: “Political activity retaliation is not covered by the federal laws that generally prohibit retaliation based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability for private employers, or by the laws protecting against retaliation on the basis of union or concerted activity,” and “[e]mployers may not retaliate against employees for voting a certain way by reducing or threatening to reduce their compensation or benefits.” That said, you could still be fired in Texas because state law does not protect political speech or commentary by employees in the private sector. According to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), “In general, an employer does not have to explain why it is letting an employee go – an employer can say as little or as much as it deems appropriate….” A claim of wrongful, i.e. illegal termination would be best rendered by working with an experienced Texas business attorney who knows how to handle employment disputes.
For competent legal assistance from experts who have experience with employment/labor disputes, contact Reeves Law. The professional Reeves Law team, based in Austin, Texas, is ready to help you with your legal needs.