Political Speech Can Be Limited by Private Employers, But Use Caution

10.25.2016

We last posted about employees’ right to time off to vote.  It is also important to know what the laws are regarding employees’ political expression as this election becomes ever more contentious as it draws to a close.

Most likely, your employees have been discussing politics at work lately, and that’s okay, unless and until it becomes unruly.  It can disrupt employees’ ability to work and can lead to disagreements, hurt feelings, or worse – claims of harassment or discrimination.  While employees have a right to free speech in their everyday life, that right does not necessarily extend to the workplace when the employees work for a private employer. 

Private employers can limit the political talk at work, if they wish, in order to keep employees’ attention on their work.  Use caution, however, because the National Labor Relations Act still applies, meaning employers cannot prevent employees from talking about the terms and conditions of employment.  If the political discussion is related to how the election will affect the employees’ jobs, that speech is protected. 

Keep in mind that New York has laws against discrimination based on political affiliation.  Employers should try to avoid taking sides in the election or only attempting to limit the expression of those who voice a particular political view.  Further, if applicable policies are applied disparately or if an employee is disciplined after expressing a political view that differs from an opinion expressed by a manager or officer, it could lead to accusations of discrimination or retaliation.