While protesters are exercising their First Amendment rights to assemble and to free speech, it is important that you understand the difference in your rights under constitutional law and whether you have job-protected rights that stem from your protesting activity.
In response to hundreds of years of systemic racism, millions across the country are protesting. Many are protesting against police abuse and are calling for police defunding. In Hollywood alone, more than 20,000 people participated in such protests, and many more protested throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
California Labor Laws
California Labor Code § 1101 is the main source of law in this prohibits employers from having “any rule, regulation, or policy” (1) forbidding or preventing employees from engaging or participating in politics or running for office; or (2) “controlling or directing, or tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees.” That statute prohibits employers from taking action against employees for their political activities that don’t directly affect their job performance. So employers in California are not allowed to discriminate based on political activities or affiliations. Employers are, however, allowed to take action when employees’ expression of their political views affects their job performance or that of co-workers.
Additionally, California Labor Code 96(k) allows employees to make claims against their employers if they are terminated, demoted, or suspended due to any lawful behavior that they commit during non-work hours while away from their employer’s workplace.
Can My Boss Fire Me for Any Reason Stemming from My Political Protest?
So, can your boss fire you because you went to a protest? The answer depends on a number of factors. If your protest activity took place on company time or company premises, the short answer is probably “yes,” because you are most likely an “at-will” employee. In an at-will employment relationship, either party (you or your employer) can terminate employment at any time for any reason, and without notice. Some examples of circumstances in which your termination is probably valid include:
- If your protest activities occur during your work hours and you are not completing your work.
- If your protest occurred at your job, and your employer did not give you permission to use the premises for that purpose.
- If you missed work to participate in a protest and you did not have your employer’s permission.
In general, if your political activities significantly disrupt your employer’s business, you can be disciplined or fired. Employees should carefully consider whether their off-work behaviors may be associated with their employer and how their employer may be impacted. For example, if they use their work email for political activity, wear a work uniform in protests or post on social media that connects the business and the political activity, the employer may be able to support the termination.
However, if your employer did not fire other employees for engaging in the same type of behavior you did, and simply does not support your political view, you may have a case for discrimination-based wrongful termination.
One final note: if you were arrested during a protest, your employer may be able to take action against you while the arrest is pending if it is reasonable that your employer’s business could be impacted because of it, but your employer cannot use this fact alone as the only determining factor in an adverse employment decision.
What Can I Do If My Boss Fired Me for Protesting?
If a boss in California terminates you because you were lawfully protesting, it is important that you speak to a knowledgeable employment law attorney who can explain your rights. They will be able to tell you if you may have a wrongful termination claim against your employer.
California’s Labor Code allows you to sue for actual damages suffered, including lost wages you incurred due to the wrongful termination. However, you have a duty to mitigate (minimize) your damages, so you will need to be able to show that you were actively looking for employment after termination.
If you feel you may have been terminated because of your political activity, we want to talk to you. Contact us online or call 310-205-2020 to schedule a consultation with one of the experienced employment attorneys at the Law Offices of Lauren Abrams.