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Can an At-Will Employee Be Fired for Engaging in a Political Protest?

Most people have strong opinions regarding politics — and sometimes the topic can be difficult to avoid in the workplace. If you express your views at your job or by participating in a political protest, you may be wondering if you can be legally terminated by your employer in retaliation.

Although the First Amendment provides federal and state employees with protection from retaliation for political speech and activities, it does not apply to employees of private organizations. In other words, if you engage in political protests and are then terminated from a job in the private sector, you have limited legal recourse.

Kentucky is an at-will employment state, which means that an employee can generally be fired at any time and for any reason or for no reason at all. Nevertheless, you cannot be terminated if the employer’s action would violate state or federal employment laws, such as those prohibiting discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability, age or national origin. Employees are also legally protected from retaliation for filing a whistleblower complaint, reporting discrimination, taking FMLA leave, making a complaint regarding OSHA violations or pursuing a workers’ compensation claim.

In addition, some states have laws that protect employees when it comes to an employer’s conduct in attempting to influence how they vote. Kentucky’s law prohibits employers from dictating how employees should vote in state elections. An employer cannot:

  • Exert pressure on employees to vote a certain way
  • Coerce employees to vote for a specific political party
  • Direct employees to vote for a particular candidate for state office
  • Threaten to fire an employee based on their voting activity
  • Disseminate any communications that they expect employees to vote for any particular candidate
  • Bribe or induce employees to vote a specific way in a state election
  • Threaten employees with a company shutdown if a particular candidate wins an election.

Although the Kentucky statute does not explicitly mention retaliation against an employee for participation in a political protest, it may be persuasively argued that such actions are at least as intimidating as interference with an employee’s voting rights. An argument can also be made that retaliation for protesting is against public policy.

If you believe you were wrongfully terminated from your employment in Kentucky, you need an experienced employment attorney on your side to advise you of your legal rights and remedies. At Hemmer DeFrank Wessels, PLLC in Fort Mitchell, we provide dedicated representation for a variety of employment law matters. To schedule a consultation, call us at 859-344-1188 or contact us online.

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