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Be careful about talking politics at work

Election day is quickly approaching and there are already some very contentious political campaigns going on right now.  Many people, including co-workers, share a deep interest in the positions and policies of various political candidates.  Workers should be careful, however, about what they discuss at work.

Many people mistakenly think that their employer cannot do anything to them for talking about politics because they have a First Amendment right to express their opinions.  While it is true that everyone has a First Amendment right to talk politics, the First Amendment only prevents the government from punishing you for talking politics.  So, if you work for a private employer, instead of a government, your employer can punish you for speaking your mind about, for example, why people should vote for a certain candidate.  Even employees who work for a government should be cautious about what they discuss at work because, even though the First Amendment provides some protections to those employees, those First Amendment protections are not unlimited.  There are also some laws, such as the federal Hatch Act, that prohibits political activity at work.

As with most legal rules, however, there is no bright line rule on what types of political speech an employer may punish you for saying.  For example, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) entitles non-supervisory employees to discuss issues such as their pay.  Thus, if you speak to your co-workers about how you like the policy proposal of raising the minimum wage because you think you and your co-workers deserve a pay raise, your employer may not be able to legally punish you for such conversations.

Because of the lack of legal clarity on this issue, and because political conversations can lead to heated arguments between people who disagree with each other, it is probably the best practice to keep politics out of the workplace.  Just because you think no one in their right mind would vote for candidate X does not mean everyone is going to agree with you.  If your boss likes candidate X, you could face some serious problems at work if you bad mouth candidate X.