Election Day, Freedom of Speech, and Your Job
With the presidential election just a few days away, we wanted to address an issue that’s come up with our clients locally but also impacts public sector employees across the country. If you are employed by a local or federal government entity of any kind, you cannot legally be terminated or otherwise punished for supporting the candidate of your choice.
People who work for the state or federal government may have more restrictions on what they can discuss while on the job and what they wear to work than some private sector workers. A police officer, for example, might be prohibited from wearing a button for her favorite candidate while in uniform. However, she should never be prohibited from voting for any candidate she chooses. And she should never be retaliated against on the job for supporting the “wrong” candidate.
Throughout the United States, it is illegal for a public employer or entity to retaliate against a public sector employee for their political affiliation or for their choice of candidate. This may seem obvious, as voting is a cornerstone of democracy. But, here in Georgia, we’ve seen multiple cases in which employees were retaliated against for supporting the candidate of their choice. For example, LAW has filed cases for sheriff’s department employees in Georgia who were wrongfully terminated for supporting a candidate running against the current sheriff.
Voting Protection for Public Employees
The First Amendment protects your right to free political expression, including your rights to support and vote for the candidate and issues you support. If you are a public sector employee, your employer may place reasonable limits on your political expression at work. But, if your employer retaliates against you for your legally protected political expression outside of work, you may have a claim against your employer for violating your First Amendment rights.
Related: Voting Leave for State of Georgia Employees
On a related note, if you are a State employee, and you have not voted yet and you are scheduled to work on Election Day, you may want to review the Georgia Department of Administrative Services’ guidelines for voting leave. Depending on your hours, your employer may or may not be required to offer you time off from work to vote. If your shift begins and ends within 2 hours of poll closure, your employer is required to allow you two hours to vote. However, under these guidelines, employees must request leave per normal procedures.
Protecting Georgia Employees’ First Amendment Rights
If you have been terminated from your position as a state or federal employee – or threatened in any way – for supporting or voting for the candidate of your choice, you may have a retaliation case. No one should ever feel pressured or coerced to vote against their best interests or preference, and you should certainly never feel that your job in the public sector is in danger if you cast your ballot against your employer’s wishes.
At LAW, we’re committed to protecting workers’ rights in Georgia. Call us today at (470) 823-4000 or schedule your consultation online to discuss your case with us.
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