This is a public service announcement...
October 14, 2012 8:59 AM Subscribe
Citizens United has wrought widespread changes in the election law landscape. Yet, a lesser-known consequence of this watershed case might have a significant impact in the workplace: it may permit employers to hold political captive audience workplace meetings with their employees. Under Citizens United’s robust conception of corporate political speech, employers may now be able to compel their employees to listen to their political views at such meetings on pain of termination. And employers such as Koch Industries are taking full advantage of this.
Some state laws (see bottom of article) still limit employer influence on workers' political expression and participation outside of the workplace. Private Employees' Speech and Political Activity: Statutory Protection Against Employer Retaliation [pdf] is a more comprehensive survey. Practical advice for employees is also available. Practical advice for employers is even more readily available.
This was an issue even before Citizens United:
The doctrine of employment at will allows employers to fire employees for any reason whatsoever, even reasons that are arbitrary or unfair. That general power can be restricted by statute, as Congress did with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on race, religion, or gender. But without a specific state law, private employers can fire employees for their political speech.As the same article continues, while legal,
Yet surely these terminations of employees exercising their rights of citizenship are wrong. Employers ought to have the right to manage their businesses as they see fit. But when they use their economic power over people’s livelihoods to control the political behavior of U.S. citizens, it threatens American democracy.Whether legally or illegally, employers have historically tried to influence worker behavior both in and outside of the workplace in a broad variety of ways that bring up ethical questions around coercion.
Maybe the real problem is that corporate organizational structures are not, themselves, democratic.
The distinction between affirmative vs. negative rights to free speech seems to be central to legal decisions at national vs. state levels on whether employers may restrict employee speech outside of work time and off employer property.
The situation for public employers and employees is complicated for different reasons.
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