As I reminded everyone last time out, we have a national election coming up in less than two months.  And as a result, we are seeing a lot of personal opinions and arguments expressed about the various referendums, ballot measures and candidates running for office.   Many of the views are provided by reliable and knowledgeable resources with lengthy backgrounds covering politics for legitimate news organizations.  And thanks to the proliferation of social media many more opinions are coming from individuals merely expressing themselves with the passion allowed by our Constitution.   That’s all well and good until someone disagrees, or decides that one person’s opinion doesn’t matter.
Well, I’m all for freedom of expression!  We all have the right to voice our political views!  But there are people who will attempt to stifle views that differ from their own.  And increasingly, this is happening in the work place.  To a degree, it is understandable that employers do not want heated discussions about politics (or other topics) that they believe are distracting to their workers and their productivity.  But it should not be an acceptable practice to dissuade reasonable discourse.  Sadly, people have recently been fired for expressing their political views.
Employers, like their employees, have the right to support the candidates and political perspectives of their choice, but to insist that employees share their views at the risk of termination is illegal on so many levels.  It is one thing to “unfriend” someone on Facebook who doesn’t share your love for a particular politician or viewpoint, but for an employer to threaten job loss is something else entirely.  Doing so is a violation of the employee’s constitutional rights.
This political season is as highly charged or more so than any in recent memory, and the opinions being expressed are just as charged.  The ability for any individual to reach a wide audience is unprecedented through our latest technological delivery methods.  Having a one-on-one conversation with a coworker should be a normal part of being in a work environment, but broadcasting your opinions via the internet, blogs, tweets and social networks is a powerful means of expression.  An employer certainly is within their rights to discourage the dissemination of political opinion when it’s done on company time, and from company owned equipment.  But the people who were recently terminated for expressing differing opinions from their employers did so on their own time, after work hours and from their own computers.   Even if the employer is a financial supporter of a candidate and erroneously believes that an employee’s opinion reflects their own or their company’s, there are no legal grounds for dismissal here!  I am confident that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will get involved in this case and fight for the rights of the affected employees.
But topics such as politics and religion are touchy subjects for many people who hold their beliefs as sacred, even when they are wrong or misguided.  Opinions are like belly buttons; everyone has one.  And right or wrong, they have protected rights.  But because these and other topics are so sensitive and people’s attachments to their beliefs so staunch, we must be careful where, when and how we choose to express ourselves.  Certainly it should not be on company time, even if you work for an open minded employer.
Simply put, with anything we post on the internet these days, we should be circumspect.  Make certain that what you post is done as a personal expression of opinion and not posed as though it comes from your employer, even if/when they openly agree with you.
Certainly there are people who like to be provocative and stir things up in an attempt to rile up those who disagree with them.  But employers rightly recognize the disruptive nature of such behaviors and are within their rights to minimize them.
So if you want to be provocative or controversial, it’s best to do so on your own time, on your own dime, and your own computer.  Doing otherwise could prove quite touchy indeed!
And no matter what your political beliefs, don’t forget to vote this November!
For more tips on surviving another political season at work, your job search, and career development, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com

By Hank

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