It seems as though our society is more politically divided than ever before. But what if your employer and you share different beliefs? Can they fire you over political speech or your political affiliation?
An “At Will” Employment State
Illinois, which is an “at will” employment state, may be more likely to allow employers to terminate an employee over their political views than other worker-rights-focused states. An at will state is one in which an employer has the right to fire its employees for any reason so long as it’s not prohibited by an existing law. Under the Illinois Human Rights Act, there is no established language pertaining to private employer discrimination based on political speech or party affiliation. However, the Act does prohibit discrimination based on the following traits or classes:
- Familial status
- Nation of origin
- Citizenship status
- Age (40 and older)
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation (including gender identity)
- Physical or mental disability
- Military status or discharge
- Arrest record (in some situations)
Public employees are protected from termination as retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights (free speech and assembly). This is because public employers are considered an extension of the government and therefore are subject to the First Amendment, which includes political activities.
As for private employers in Illinois, there is no state or federal law against discrimination based on political views. While many believe that First Amendment rights apply in any workplace, this is not true. The First Amendment only applies to government action and since private employers are not considered a part of the government. Employees at private businesses are not protected from being fired by a non-governmental employer for what they say. It can be a bit more complex when a private employer acts as a government contractor.
Laws to Keep in Mind
Coercion of a Vote
Even so, public employers must be careful because Illinois law prohibits them from attempting to coerce an employee’s vote or for discriminating against an employee for voting. Therefore, it an employee expresses their intent to vote for a specific candidate, the employer must be careful with terminating them since it could be looked at as coercion or discrimination related to their vote. This is true even if the reason for termination has nothing to do with their vote and everything to do with the employee’s political views.
It’s also important to note that the type of political speech makes a difference when it comes to employee termination. Under Illinois state law, an employer may not fire an employee only for the fact that they were arrested. However, an employer can fire them because of the activities they engaged in that led to the arrest. The question the employer must ask itself is whether it would choose to terminate the employee for his or her actions even if he or she was not arrested.
Finally, under the Illinois Records Keeping Act, employers may not keep records of employers’ associations, political activities, and publications in the employee’s personnel file.
The IL Employment Law Attorneys at ST Legal Group Can Help
If you have been terminated from your job and believe that it is because of an illegal reason (a state-protected reason or a reason related to you belonging to a protected class of people), you should be able to remedy the situation through monetary compensation and/or reinstatement to your position. A knowledgeable and experienced Illinois employment law attorney can help you to fight for what you deserve. The qualified attorneys at ST Legal Group can help to protect your employment rights. To learn more, or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!