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It so happened that my boss walked by while I was talking politics with a friend, totally after hours and not at work nor near it. Usually I never speak at work to anyone about my political/religious views and I know for sure that his political opinions and mine are radically different.

Can my boss/upper management fire me because I spoke about politics in a public place outside of work?

I live in Florida, USA.

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    Have you been fired? Or are you just wondering? Has your boss said anything to you? Do you and your boss hang out at the same places? Why were you in the same place if you weren't working? So many questions. No actual details provided. VTC? – Kent A. May 4 '16 at 5:29
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    If he was just walking by, what makes you think he even cared what you and your friend were talking about? By the way, by your title "speak publicly" I was thinking something like you're doing protests or activism or something along those lines. If you're just talking with a friend, you may be overthinking this. – Brandin May 4 '16 at 9:26
  • Did you name your company while you were speaking? Did you represent yourself as an agent for that company? Did you speak ill of the company? Did you say you were an employee of that company? Is there a clause in your contract dictating outside activities? we need more information – Richard Says Reinstate Monica May 4 '16 at 12:59
  • There was recently a case in WA state where an officer sued the state a won when he was demoted from the mayors (or some other elected city official) office after being seen carrying a political lawn sign (which happened to be for his mother-in-law) for the mayors challenger. – MooseLucifer May 4 '16 at 23:28
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It depends on where you're at, and what kind of legal protections you have.

In the USA, you would most likely be employed as "at will" in which you could technically be fired for any reason including "no reason". Your boss could technically fire you because he/she didn't like what colour shirt you were wearing in a particular photo on Facebook, although I doubt they would be so petty.

There are many places around the world that afford you certain protections. As we cannot provide you with legal advice, the best I could suggest is to speak with an attorney about this.

However most people aren't so trigger-happy when making the decision to terminate an employee. Usually there are much bigger problems to worry about, such as the headache for finding a replacement. It's then not worth the time or effort unless there were bigger problems already.

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    The best thing you can suggest is to speak with an attorney? Out of curiosity, do you really believe it's even remotely reasonable to hire an attorney over something as stupid as this? I don't understand why when something law related comes up people lose all common sense and always answer "hire a lawyer" ignoring all circumstances. – Thomas Bonini May 4 '16 at 17:39
  • @AndreasBonini Reasonable? No. However this is not a community for legal advice, and an attorney would be the best way to get legal advice. There are several things that would need to happen before I would consider calling up an attorney, but that is beyond the scope of this answer. Instead, I left it as generic as possible in the event someone comes across a similar situation, with potential consequences. – user17163 May 4 '16 at 17:42
  • an attorney would NOT be the BEST way to get legal advice for something like this. It's like suggesting to hire a programmer to fix a misclosed HTML tag. Can you imagine if the OP actually follows your advice? He will spend a lot of money for nothing and he will feel very stupid. – Thomas Bonini May 4 '16 at 17:44
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    @AndreasBonini If the OP is at the point where he is considering spending money on an attorney, his situation would be well out of our scope to advise. Coming from a family of attorneys, I can tell you first hand just how badly someone can get screwed over by following advice they found on the internet. Especially when the advice may not pertain to their country, state, or local laws. An attorney is the only sure-fire way to know exactly what protections you do or do not have. I could detail a legal answer for OP's specific circumstance, but what happens when someone else follows it? – user17163 May 4 '16 at 17:48
  • @ThomasBonini What would be the BEST way? – Joe Jul 3 at 10:31
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Usually, you are entitled to express your own opinions on your own time ... as long as you make it clear that they are your opinions, and that you are not speaking on behalf of your employer, and those opinions don't actively embarrass the employer. (No hate speech, for example.)

The easiest way to find out exactly what your company is and isn't comfortable with is to ask. In a larger company, HR will have a policy statement making this (reasonably) clear. In a small company with no HR department, ask your boss.

Nobody same will fire you for asking what the rules are to avoid being fired.

  • they meant Nobody sane – whereisSQL May 4 '16 at 18:15
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In most situations they can fire you for any reason they want, or no reason. Legally speaking you sometimes can sue them, but in practical terms if they want you gone, you're gone.

Would they do so should be the question. And that would depend a lot on your political views in relation to your bosses or company policy. You may make the company look bad, or even get the company investigated if you were an advocate of legalising marijuana or preaching jihad or white supremacy or similar.

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If you are looking for a legal advice, here is the wrong place.

Now, depending on your contracts, you could be fired for any ground your boss may want. It can be pretty easy in the USA. So yes, a difference in political opinion is a possibility.

However, you have to take into account the following points:

  • if you are doing your job well, they won't be so keen on terminating you,
  • if you only discuss your political views with friends in not so public areas, they are probably going to discard it as well, as they don't have to fear for the image of the company,
  • if you know what are their political views, it might be a sign that they are okay discussing it in a work environment,
  • are you sure they did ear your conversation fully? in a public place, people tend not to listen really to other people conversations.

So your question is lacking quite some details. And it is a possibility that you do get fire for that. However, it is not necessarily likely.

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In the US it is possible in most states to terminate an employee for no reason, so yes, you can be fired if he disagrees with anything you say that he becomes aware of. However, the likelihood of it happens is generally in direct correlation to how he sees what you said as a threat to the reputation of the company or to the profitability of the company. Let's take some examples.

If the business is one where they provide services (such as database support) to candidates for office for a particular provider, then expressing that you are strong Republican while working for a company whose customers are Democratic party elected officials, candidates and managers is definitely likely to get you fired. You might have access to data that the opposite party could use or you might be tempted to in some way sabotage their data.

If you expressed political views that might be considered hateful to one group of people and those people are potential customers, then you could likely get fired. This could have the effect of making customers unhappy, and if it is between firing someone and making customers unhappy, well customers are usually going to have the edge in that equation.

Most reasonable people would not fire you for supporting a candidate of the "wrong" party. However, there are some CEOS who are strongly in favor of one party or another and have made a public issue of being on that side (think Hobby Lobby which is strongly Republican). Those CEOs could well think that supporting the other party shows a severe lack of judgement. There have been cases where people were fired for having bumper stickers of the wrong party on their car. If you know your CEO is one of these types of people, then keep your mouth shut if you disagree and want to keep your job. Generally you know when you work for one of these companies because they want to tell you who to vote for or they want you to contribute to the party of their choice as a condition for employment. (Personally I would not consider working for such a company unless I was going to starve otherwise even if I agreed with the party they espouse because it is dangerous to the public good to try to suppress the other party as illegitimate.)

It also can depend on how public the public expression of your views is. Getting arrested in a public protest and being on the news is more likely to get your fired than chatting to a friend where a manager can over hear. Companies have the right to manage their public image, so the more public and the more controversial what you say is, the more likely you are to get in trouble for it. This is especially true if you are wearing a shirt with the company logo or are otherwise widely known to be an employee of that company or are at a public event (such as a conference) in a role of directly representing the company.

Now none of this infringes your right to free speech in any way. The constitution guarantees the government will not arrest you for what you say, not that your speech is without consequences ever. All speech has potential consequences. Telling your wife she looks fat has possible consequences as well as telling your boss he is an idiot. Expressing unpopular political views can make people stop being your friend or not want to hire you or indeed they can fire you. People are going to judge you on what you say and if they find it means they think less of you then indeed it can have consequences for your career. I am not saying you should not express political opinions out of fear, but that you should consider the context and the likelihood of it affecting your career before speaking. If being a strong Republican who supports tossing all Muslims out of the country is important to you, then you might look for a job where you are working with like-minded people and you can speechify all you want. Same if you think that abortion should be safe and legal to take an issue from the other side.

If you are worried about how your manager will react, then think before you speak. You can express more controversial views in a more private space.

  • "You might have access to data that the opposite party could use..." Is it that bad now in the USA? – gnasher729 Dec 7 '16 at 13:56

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