When it comes to sharing your thoughts online, poster beware! Social media has been a great tool for the dissemination of ideas, and it can make you more visible around the world. But what happens when you become more visible to your employer? Can you be fired over sharing political views online? In several situations, the answer is yes. But there are some state and federal laws that protect at least a portion of your online activity.
Can I Be Fired for My Political Affiliation?
Yes, in many cases, your employer can fire you for your political affiliation. Maryland is an “employment-at-will” state, meaning that without an employment contract, your employer can fire you for almost any reason or no reason. There are some exceptions to this at-will rule. An employer cannot fire you for being the member of a protected class or engaging in protected activities. Under Maryland law, your employer cannot fire you for the following reasons:
- National origin,
- Marital status,
- Filing a workers’ compensation claim,
- Asserting your rights to overtime or minimum wage,
- Asserting your rights to a safe workplace;
- Refusing to commit a crime;
- Reporting for military duty;
- Reporting for jury duty; or
- Having a wage attachment for a debt.
As you can see, Maryland law unfortunately does not protect your political affiliation from employment discrimination.
You may also be asking, Can I be fired for my political beliefs if I only share them on my personal time? The answer is maybe, and it depends on how you share your beliefs and how well you protect yourself. If you were terminated for sharing your political beliefs online, an experienced employment legal matters lawyer can determine if your termination was unlawful and whether you have access to remedies.
Federal Protection for Sharing Political Beliefs Online
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) provides some protections for sharing beliefs on social media. Part of the NLRA’s purpose is to protect your right to act with other employees to address your working conditions, and sharing online can be a part of that. Your employer cannot fire you for exercising your rights under the NLRA. To determine if the NLRA protects your sharing of political beliefs online, you must ask two questions:
- Who was I referencing in my political post?
- What was my political post about?
If your online activity was protected and you were fired because of it, you could receive remedies such as backpay, dues, costs, fines, and job reinstatement.
NLRA-Protected Posts Must Refer to Working Conditions
The NLRA’s purpose is to protect an employee’s right to address their issues with their working conditions. If your online political post refers to unfair job practices your employer uses, there’s a good chance that the NLRA protects it and your employer cannot fire you for it.
NLRA-Protected Posts Must Involve Other Employees
It is not enough that your online political post references your issues with your working conditions, it must also involve other employees to be protected. The NLRA seeks to protect “concerted activity” that addresses working conditions. This means activity involving two or more employees to address working conditions. If you have personal complaints about work that do not involve other employees and you post them in a political message online, the NLRA likely does not protect your post.
Also note, if your online post contains a series of political statements and only one refers to working conditions, your employer could legally fire you for the remainder of the statements that don’t reference work. In one case about social media posts, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that an employer legally fired a car salesman who, on the same day, posted pictures of an embarrassing car accident and also posted comments about serving hot dogs at a work event. The salesman’s posts about serving hot dogs involved his co-workers. While the car salesman had an argument that his post about serving hot dogs was protected concerted activity addressing working conditions, the NLRB found that his employer exclusively fired him for the unprotected posts about the embarrassing accident.
Protection for Posting Political Beliefs Under Maryland Law
While Maryland law doesn’t provide protection for sharing your political beliefs, it does provide protection through your online privacy settings. Maryland’s Labor and Employment law bans your employer from asking you to disclose your personal social media usernames, passwords, or other means of access. Your employer cannot retaliate against you for refusing to disclose your personal social media information. Your employer can only request access to your usernames, passwords, or identifiers if your use of a platform is for business purposes and the employer needs to check your compliance with financial laws or regulations, or if the employer needs identifiers to investigate your unauthorized downloading of the employer’s financial or proprietary information. If your social media presence is not public or easily identifiable as you, your employer may not be able to locate your political posts or ask you for the means to do so. If your employer illegally requires you to provide access to your online accounts, you may have rights to monetary damages or injunctive relief.
Contact an Attorney to Protect Your Online Activity
If you are fired over sharing political views online, do not hesitate to speak to a lawyer. You may have legal options. At the Smithey Law Group LLC, we have an award-winning attorney group, and we regularly handle matters regarding workplace privacy. We work hard, and we are skillful and professional. Contact us online or call us at 410-881-8512 for the workplace answers you need.