In the aftermath of events from the Charlottesville protest, there were news stories from around the country which reported that some protestors were fired from their jobs after being identified on social media. From a labor law perspective, the question arises: Can an employee be fired because of their personal opinions?
While different states around the U.S. have their own respective legalities with regards to discrimination, this article will focus on federal laws. More specifically, the relevant laws on the federal labor law poster.
Of the various labor federal labor postings, the one with the relevance to our question is the Equal Employment Opportunity labor poster. While the poster does make distinctions on the type of employer (Private, Public, Federal Contract holder), the primary class of people who are protected is as follows:
RACE, COLOR, RELIGION, SEX, NATIONAL ORIGIN
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, protects applicants and
employees from discrimination in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits,
job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment, on the basis
of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), or national origin. Religious
discrimination includes failing to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious
practices where the accommodation does not impose undue hardship.
From this paragraph, there wouldn’t necessarily be any laws prohibiting an employer from firing an employee based on the participation in a white supremacist rally. Other protected classes include disabled workers, age discrimination and genetic discrimination. While some may argue that white supremacy may be considered a religion or race, at the time of this writing, there isn’t any precedence to consider this a factor.
The reason an employer would be able to fire a worker pretty much comes down to something called “at-will-employment”. This means that an employer can fire a worker, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the Equal Employment Opportunity laws.
The caveat to this would be if the employer is part of a union, or works in the public sector, or if the company is engaged in federal contracts. In these cases, they are generally protected by their first amendment right of free speech, as these employers are not considered “at-will” employers.