Voter Identification Law

Many people associate the infamous "Citizens United" Supreme Court ruling with the influx of greater corporate donations to political campaigns. However, that decision six years ago also gave companies greater rights when it comes to speaking to their employees about political issues and candidates. Private companies can encourage employees to make political contributions to candidates and provide "voter guides" outlining the company's political endorsements, as long as they aren't doing these things in a coordinated effort with a particular campaign.

Vague Regulations Can Leave Employees at Risk

Federal Election Commission regulations haven't yet caught up to the Citizens United changes, so things are still murky when it comes to how much influence companies can exert on workers. One attorney says that "this is an area where there's litigation in the future to ... write these rules more clearly." In a Harvard University survey last year of about 1,000 employees, 14 percent said they heard political messages from their employers that they found either "somewhat coercive" or "strongly coercive."

Many employers tie their advocacy of political candidates to what's good for the company. When President Obama was running for re-election in 2012, some chief executives warned employees that they would need to cut staff if he won in order to cover the costs of "Obamacare."

What Happens When Political Rhetoric Is Offensive?

The problem isn't just employers advocating for a particular candidate or issue. It's political speech and other rhetoric used among employees. The current presidential campaign has seen what many consider discriminatory opinions and speech based on people's race, religion, gender and national origin. Often, in an effort to avoid problems and keep the peace in the workplace, companies instruct workers not to discuss politics at work. Enforcing that, however, can be a challenge.

Some states, including California, actually have laws protecting employees from retaliation for their political views. However, at the federal level and in most states, as an employment attorney notes, the law doesn't provide "any type of protection for political affiliation discrimination or refusal to engage in political activity that your employer asks you to engage in."

If employees feel they're being discriminated or retaliated against in the workplace, either for who they are or their political beliefs, an attorney experienced dealing with both federal employment law and the employment laws of your state can provide guidance.