As the election approaches, many people here in Greenbelt, Maryland, may be wondering about the role of politics in the workplace. Recently, there have been several reports of major employers telling their employees how they prefer them to vote. The legal implications of these political solicitations in the workplace are very complex, but in general it is wise to remain inclusive and tolerant at work and avoid hot-button political discussions.
When one’s job is related to a political issue, politics become an even more complicated employment law issue. Recently, in Washington, D.C., Gallaudet University’s chief diversity officer was placed on paid administrative leave because of her personal views on gay marriage. This begs the question: can an employee be suspended or terminated for exercising one’s civil rights?
The woman was suspended after the president of the university learned that she signed a petition to put the question of same-sex marriage on Maryland’s ballot. The woman has said that she is not anti-gay but that she thought the measure should go to a vote.
The university president said the university is studying the issue to determine whether the woman’s signature was appropriate, given her role. He has posed a question about whether this political action interferes with her ability to do her job as a diversity officer.
The diversity chief, Gallaudet University’s first deaf, black woman to earn a doctorate, has accused the university of damaging her reputation and attempting to stifle her civil rights.
People on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue have come out in support of the diversity chief. The woman, who remains on leave, has demanded compensation from the university for stress as well as damages to her reputation.
While politics are a sensitive issue in the workplace, it is important that employers do not quash their workers’ freedom of speech or retaliate against workers for their views. When this does happen, workers may benefit from legal counsel.
Source: CNN, “Diversity chief: my reputation is tarnished,” Moni Basu, Oct. 17, 2012
- Our law firm handles employment disputes. For more information, visit our Metro Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia Retaliatory Termination page.