Can My Boss Tell Me How to Vote?
Citizens United changed some of the rules of politics at work, but not all.
It may rub you the wrong way, but yes, your boss can tell you how you should vote. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, private employers are no longer barred from discussing political matters with their employees. For example, the Koch brothers, billionaire owners of the giant pulp and paper company Georgia-Pacific, are urging their company’s 45,000 employees to vote for Mitt Romney, or “suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills" if President Obama is reelected.
No one is explicitly threatening workers’ jobs if they don’t vote the boss’s way. That would be illegal, as is urging employees to give money to specific candidates. But at least one CEO, David Siegel of Westgate Resorts, did caution employees that “if any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current president plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”
What your employer can’t do is follow you into the voting booth to find out if you heeded the advice. As always, your vote remains private.
Bosses have broad discretion when it comes to limiting employees’ political expression in the workplace. A non-solicitation policy, for example, can be used to prohibit workers from soliciting other employees’ political support during work time. A dress code policy can bar workers from displaying political buttons, pins and hats. But under the National Labor Relations Act, employees do have the right to display labor union insignia at work, so they can’t be disciplined for wearing a button with a political message, such as “Teamsters for Obama.”
Some states put additional restrictions on private employers to prohibit the limiting of employees’ political activity. For example, New Jersey bars employers from requiring workers to attend employer-sponsored meetings or listen to the employer’s political opinion. And federal law bans retaliation against employees for failing to support a candidate, ballot position or political party.
If you are a public servant, by the way, working for Uncle Sam, state or local government, federal laws specifically protect your right to express your political beliefs and prohibit your bosses from making employment decisions -- hiring, firing, promotions, etc. -- based on your political affiliation or beliefs.