Q: I can’t believe I’m even asking this, but can you discuss the legalities of firing someone for being a Nazi outside of work? The recent events in Charlottesville are making me curious about what implications this might have since I’ve read that a few of the people who attended got fired.
A: I can’t believe I’m discussing firing Nazis either, but unfortunately that’s where we are.
From a strictly legal perspective, the answer is yes. You can absolutely fire someone for being a Nazi. In Florida, we are an “employment at-will” state, which means (absent a contract or union) employers can fire any time for any reason as long it’s not a discriminatory reason. Political affiliation is not a protected category (such as religion, nationality, age, color, gender etc.) so, even if we were generous and categorized Nazis as a political group (as opposed to a hate group or terrorist organization) you would still be free to fire them.
I’ve seen two common areas of confusion among people discussing this topic –specially on Facebook comments and online.
The first one is the “what about our freedom of speech” argument.
Well, here’s a refresher: the First Amendment protects you from the government silencing you, and has nothing to do with your employer -who can certainly censor you and fire you. The old cliché “We have freedom of speech but not freedom from consequences” applies here.
The second area of confusion is when people think employers can’t fire you for activities or behavior “outside working hours.” Well of course they can, as anyone who’s been fired for a weekend DUI, or posting inappropriate pictures on their Facebook page can tell you. There are some trespasses for which the “but, he’s great at doing his job, it’s no one’s business what he does outside” argument falls short.
But even though employers stand on firm legal ground to fire, it doesn’t mean it will be an easy decision or that it won’t have fallout.
Things to consider:
- How will you communicate your decision to the employee?
- To the rest of the team?
- Would safety precautions make sense?
- Should the public/customers know or will you keep it private? In other words, is this about making a stand about your company’s values, or simply a business/safety decision?
- And, what if the state awards him/her unemployment benefits, will you contest it?
Here’s to hoping you never have to answer these questions.
©Copyright Eva Del Rio