A recent study found that 62% of Americans say they are afraid to share their political views due to a fear that others might be offended. This fear is not always unwarranted. Across the country, employees have been facing discipline for expressing their views on hot-button issues, such as race and the Black Lives Matter movement. This raises the question: can employers punish employees who share their honest beliefs online, or do these employees have legal protections in situations like this? As usual, the answer will depend on the circumstances and will require a case-by-case analysis.
Social Media Policies
Employers have a legitimate interest in protecting their reputations. If an employee posts their own controversial political beliefs online in a manner that could be construed as speaking on the employer’s behalf, this will likely be a violation of the employer’s social media policy. Likewise, even when an employee isn’t speaking on behalf of the company, if they make a post that contains slurs, hateful language, threats, or harasses co-workers, this too will almost certainly be a violation of the employer’s social media policy. In cases like these, employers have great leeway to discipline employees. Employees can do their best to avoid situations like this by keeping their posts respectful and clearly indicated that their views are their own.
When there is not a clear-cut violation of a social media policy, and instead it seems like a boss is simply punishing an employee for having different political views, the situation is a bit more complicated. Employees who are terminated for sharing their political views on their personal social media accounts may have a cause of action if they can show that their employer was motivated by discriminatory animus. One way an employee can demonstrate this is with evidence that other employees outside of their protected class (be it race, religion, sex, etc.) posted similar, or worse, content and faced no discipline.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious harassment, which can occur when an employer explicitly or implicitly coerces an employee to abandon, alter, or adopt a religious practice as a condition of employment. In some cases, an employee may be able to argue that by posting their beliefs on social media, they were engaging in a religious practice. If an employer punishes an employee for practicing their religion by sharing their sincerely held religious beliefs, this may be a form of religious harassment. Similarly, if an employer requires an employee to support political beliefs that go against their religion, this too may qualify as religious harassment.
If you have been disciplined by your employer for sharing your personal or political views on social media, contact Thatcher Law Firm at 301-441-1400. www.ThatcherLaw.com. Email me at [email protected].
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