The news has been filled this week with the “firings” of employees across the country who participated in the ugly display of hate in Charlottesville, Virginia. There is even a hashtag (#Charlottesville) created so that if you can identify a marcher, you can send in the names and profiles of the white supremacists who marched to be “outed” and ultimately terminated from his/her employment as one way of punishing their behavior. Employers in California beware – if you terminate your employee based on their participation in political activity, as awful as it may be, you could be looking at a wrongful termination suit.
While the consequences of such hateful behavior can lead to sanctions at the workplace, including termination, be careful. Unlike many states where such termination is acceptable, California Labor Code Section 1101 and 1102 prohibit employers from interfering with employees’ fundamental rights to engage in political activity. If you are terminating an employee based on a political motive, you could find yourself on the other end of a law suit. Of course, California is an at-will state and you can always terminate an employee in California for a non-political reason as long as it is not discriminatory or retaliatory. This may include that same employee creating a hostile work environment. Having policies in place and documenting poor employee behavior and complaints from other employees are keys to a proper termination.
For more information on how to handle disruptive behavior in the workplace, call the employment attorneys of Chauvel & Glatt.