The world is in chaos and it seems as though we have never been more divided. Rallies and protests have become almost commonplace and people’s political opinions are all over social media. A frequent question we are asked, as employment lawyers, is, “Can my employer fire me for my political views?” In New York, the short answer is, “Yes.” New York State offers limited protection to employees that are engaged in certain political activities (NY Labor Law §201-D) that are narrowly defined as: running for office, campaigning for an individual for public office or participating in fundraising activities for the benefit of a candidate running for public office. If your speech involves expressions of your own political views, and your employer finds that they are contrary to its beliefs, mission, ideals or just distasteful, your employer can terminate you as an at-will employee without violating any laws or regulations.
Sometimes a discussion about politics can touch on other subjects such as race or religion. The human rights law will protect an employee who is being targeted because of their race, national origin, creed or religion. For example, if a person of color attends a Black Lives Matter rally along with their white colleague and afterwards, the employee of color is reprimanded or disciplined for participating in that activity, but the white colleague is not, an argument can be made that the punishment is rooted in race discrimination.
Typically, the employment relationship is “at-will” and that gives an employer a lot of leeway to misbehave. If, however, the offending conduct is connected to age (over 40), race, national origin, creed, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, marital status, caregiver status or criminal background you may have legal rights.