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Podcast: Political Extremism and Other Controversial Off-Duty Conduct

In the aftermath of white supremacists descending upon Charlottesville, Virginia, some of the marchers were identified on social media and lost their jobs in the process. But how far can employers go in firing or disciplining someone for expressing their political beliefs outside of the workplace?

This podcast examines that difficult question with North Carolina management-side employment attorney Robin E. Shea, who authors the popular Employment & Labor Insider blog and practices with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete. While noting that private employers typically can fire at-will employees for their political expression, Shea opposes taking action against employees for their political beliefs as a general rule, with the exception of "the extreme outer fringes" such as neo-Nazis or KKK members.

Political Extremism and Other Controversial Off-Duty Conduct

August 29, 2017

Shea explains that a good threshold question in evaluating whether a group is unacceptable is whether it preaches the inferiority of different races. She notes that an employer should tread carefully, though, in how it defines "hate groups" because it does not want to shut down all dissenting views either. In addition, Shea advises consulting the collective bargaining agreement (if there is one in place) and to get the union's buy-in, if possible, before taking action.

Employers should be aware that roughly 30 states protect off-duty conduct in some fashion, and a few states limit employers from taking action based on an employee's political affiliations.

Additional Resources

Employee Off-Duty Behavior Laws by State