Can you be fired for protesting?
Substitute teacher Patricia McAllister was fired in mid-October after making a public comment about "Zionist Jews" at Occupy Los Angeles. Ten days later, Caitlin Curran, of public radio's The Takeaway, was fired after a photo of her at Occupy Wall Street surfaced online.
Were these women legally fired? And should other Occupy protesters be concerned?
Ultimately, whether a person can be fired for protesting depends on state law and the terms of his or her employment contract.
Only a few states, such as New York and California, protect an employee's right to engage in legal off-duty activities. Some states also have far-reaching anti-discrimination laws. These laws may protect an employee's political beliefs, including the right to engage in political activity.
If you live in a jurisdiction without these protections, you can probably be fired for protesting. An employer can decide that it reflects poorly on the company, or that it creates a conflict of interest.
However, there are two possible exceptions.
First, those with employment contracts can only be fired under its terms. Look at them closely to see if they apply.
And second, courts often apply a public policy exception to at-will employment. This means that an employee cannot be fired for a reason that goes against public policy--even if there is no employment contract. Some courts may extend this exception to political protest, as it is the very essence of the First Amendment.
If you think you might be fired for protesting, try talking to your employer before you hit the streets. Get any promises in writing. If you have been fired for protesting, whether at Occupy Wall Street or elsewhere, contact an attorney.
- In Florida, off-the-job conduct may put your unemployment benefits at risk (Orlando Sentinel)
- At-Will Employee FAQ's (FindLaw)
- 3 Times You Can Fire An Employee For Off Duty Conduct (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)