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Is It Legal to Fire a Worker for Running for Office?

With election season approaching, your may have employees who are running for local, state, or -- who knows? -- even national office.

While many employers encourage their employees to get involved politically off the clock, in some cases, an employee's political campaign can become an unwelcome distraction or even a potential conflict of interest.

In cases where an employee's political aspirations begin impinging on his professional obligations, is it legal to fire a worker for running for office?

Political Views Are Generally Not Protected

It may seem like firing an employee for political action outside of work would be wrongful discrimination. But unlike firing workers based on their religion, race, national origin, or age, firing an employee on the basis of their political beliefs is generally not considered discrimination, as political views are not protected under employment discrimination laws.

On that same token, firing an employee because of his or her political ambition is also not generally considered grounds for a wrongful termination claim, barring other, independent grounds (like an employment contract, for example).

After-Work Activities Can Be Grounds for Termination

Even when a political campaign is completely after-hours, an employer is generally still within its power to terminate an employee if the employer chooses to do so. Viviana Janer, a manager with Marriott Vacations -- a spin-off of hotel chain Marriott International -- recently found this out the hard way, when she was terminated from her position for refusing to resign from her campaign for a seat on her local county commission, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

Perhaps surprisingly, only four states protect workers' rights to engage in legal, off-duty activity, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures report. Those states are: California, Colorado, New York, and North Dakota. A handful of other states protect workers' rights to use lawful products and tobacco products, but as far as politics go, the general rule seems to be: Run at your own risk.

Learn more about the rules regarding employment discrimination, wrongful termination, and other workplace legal questions at FindLaw's Learn About the Law section on Employment Law.

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