Workplace discrimination takes a number of forms. Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination by private employers. Discrimination is prohibited on the basis of gender, religion, color, national origin, race, and age. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits the federal government and state governments from discriminating against government employees.

The government cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of their political affiliation. In the majority of states, no law prevents an employer from terminating an individual for their political affiliation. In the majority of states, no law prevents an employer from terminating an individual for their political activity.

What is the DIfference Between Political Affiliation and Political Activity?

Political affiliation is membership in, identifying with the beliefs of, a political party, or ideology. This party may be an American political party, or a party of another country. Political Ideology is a system of political beliefs, such as communism, socialism, or conservatism. In contrast, political activity refers to engaging in political acts, including being a candidate for public office, voting, or campaigning for a political party.

The difference between affiliation and activity is essentially the difference between identifying with beliefs and acting upon those beliefs. For example, a person engages in political affiliation by joining a union, which is made up of like-minded members. In comparison, a person engages in political activity by taking those beliefs and acting on them, such as by attending marches or rallies, or engaging in lawful protest.

Can I be Discriminated Against for Political Affiliation or Activity?

In the majority of states, a private employer may lawfully terminate an individual’s employment on the basis of that person’s political affiliation or activity. The First Amendment only restrains the government from infringing on political beliefs and affiliation, not private employers. There is no “freedom of speech” right in private employment.

However, in a growing trend, a number of states have passed laws creating this right. In these states, employers may not take unfavorable job actions (i.e., termination, demotion) based on political affiliation or activity. These states include:

  • California. In California, employers may not control the political affiliation or activities of workers. Employers cannot threaten to terminate workers for refusing to engage in specific political activity.
  • Colorado. In Colorado, an employer may not prevent employees from engaging in political activities. An employer may not terminate an individual because of political affiliation.
  • District of Columbia. In the District of Columbia, employers cannot discriminate against employees based on political affiliation.
  • Louisiana. Louisiana law prohibits employers from threatening or intimidating individuals on account of political party affiliation.
  • Minnesota. Minnesota law prevents employers from financially retaliating against, or threatening to fire, an individual based on that individual’s political activities.
  • Montana. Under Montana law, an employee may only be terminated for “good cause.” That is, the termination must be based on reasonable grounds related to work performance. Termination based on political activity is prohibited. Termination based on political affiliation is prohibited.
  • Nebraska. Employers may not threaten to terminate individuals based on their political activities.
  • New Jersey. New Jersey law prohibits employers from requiring employees to take part in employer-sponsored meetings about the employer’s political opinions or positions.
  • New York. Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on their off-duty, off-premises political activities.
  • South Carolina. Employers may not terminate a citizen from employment because of that person’s political opinions or activities.
  • Wisconsin. Wisconsin law also prohibits employers from threatening to terminate employees based on political activity.

Do States Offer Any Other Protection for Political Activity?

A core political activity is the right to vote for a candidate in an election or a primary. The majority of states, including most of the states listed above, prohibit an employer from coercing or intimidating an employee into voting or not voting for a particular candidate or cause.

Some states prohibit the threat of compensation reduction, or reward of compensation increase, to influence an employee’s vote. Others prohibit employers from discrimination based on campaigning (or not campaigning) for a speific individual.

When Else Are Employees Protected from Discrimination?

Employees may still be the victim of other discrimination. This discrimination is based on race, religion, gender, age, color, or national origin. For example, an employee of a certain religion may attend a protest related to that person’s religious beliefs. The employer then terminates the individual for this reason.

The employer does not take any job action against other employees of a different religion who attend religious protests. In such a situation, the employer has discriminated on the basis of religion. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on this basis.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer if I Have Been Discriminated Against?

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, you should contact an employment lawyer. An experienced employment lawyer near you can explain your rights and options. This attorney can represent you at hearings and in court.