United States: Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump Everywhere All The Time, Including In The Workplace – What's An Employer To Do?

Last Updated: March 1 2016
Article by Michael S. Arnold

Donald Trump has become part of the national conversation.  Not a single day goes by now without Mr. Trump filling up at least one news cycle.  His recent success reminds me of a fantastic exchange in Private Parts when a researcher is explaining Howard Stern's improbable success to the infamous Pi ... let's just call him Phil Vomitz:

Researcher: The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes. The average Howard Stern fan listens for – are you ready for this? – an hour and twenty minutes.

Phil Vomitz: How can that be?

Researcher: Answer most commonly given? "I want to see what he'll say next."

Phil Vomitz: Okay, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?

Researcher: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.

Phil Vomitz: But... if they hate him, why do they listen?

Researcher: Most common answer? "I want to see what he'll say next."

Not surprisingly, not a single day also goes by without a workplace water-cooler (or better yet, chat room) conversation about Mr. Trump (or any of the other presidential candidates.)  It can run the spectrum from some friendly banter among co-workers, to a serious dialogue about the issues facing this country, all the way to a heated disagreement coupled with threats of violence.  And it begs the question: how can employers respond to employee political speech in the workplace?  This post addresses that issue.

Few Laws Exist Protecting Employee Political Speech in Private Workplaces

Generally private employers can take adverse actions against employees based on their political speech, unless (i) the employer operates in a state or city that specifically protects employees against discrimination because of political speech, or (ii) the employees are subject to a collective bargaining agreement that does the same.  (The story is quite different for public sector workers, but we do not address them here.)

Many workers live in jurisdictions that provide at least some protection against political speech discrimination – typically in the form of protecting an employee's political activities, expressions and/or affiliations.  But those laws come in all shapes and sizes, so employers must proceed carefully before banning political speech or disciplining an employee.  For example, Washington D.C.'s human rights law limits its reach to actual or perceived political affiliations only, while Seattle's law is a bit broader, extending to one's "political ideology."  Wisconsin protects those declining to attend a meeting or to participate in any communication about political matters.

More often than not, these laws protect workers from discrimination because of their political activities outside instead of inside the workplace.  For example, with limited exceptions, Colorado law prohibits employers from firing someone because of their lawful off-duty activities, which includes engaging in political speech, and it also prohibits employers from making any rule prohibiting employees from engaging or participating in politics or running for office.  New York's law protects employees engaging in certain "political activities" outside the workplace, during off hours, but it contains an exception where the employee's activities would create a "material conflict of interest related to the employer's trade secrets, proprietary information or other proprietary or business interest."

There is no federal law that specifically protects employees from discrimination or retaliation because of their political activities, affiliations or expressions.  And the First Amendment is not much of a help as it only protects a person's right to free speech from government interference, not from interference by private employers.

Therefore, unless you live in a jurisdiction that protects you, if the boss overhears you in the cafeteria campaigning for Team Trump or going haywire for Hillary, he or she can generally send you packing.

Political Speech May Invoke the Protections of Other Laws, However

Of course, it's a bit more complicated than the above analysis indicates, and will only become more so as the primary, and then general election, season unfolds.  To explain, consider the following hypothetical.

Employees A and B are talking in the break room about the upcoming Democratic debate.  Employee A says to Employee B that Hillary is the only candidate who can deliver on increasing the minimum wage, and "maybe they'll stop underpaying us here if that happens."  Employee B disagrees emphatically, placing his bet on Bernie Sanders as the only viable candidate to get the job done, and eventually the conversation turns uncomfortably vocal such that Employee C, an older Hispanic woman, cannot help but overhear Employee B comment to Employee A that he fully expects Hillary Clinton to play the female victim card to stave off criticism about her e-mail scandal.  Employee D, who supervises Employees A, B and C, chimes in and enthusiastically sides with Employee B stating that women always do this, and that Employee A should really stop griping about her wages if "she knew what was good for her."  Employee E, a senior executive, then gets in on the conversation by professing his love for Trump, including by echoing his views on immigration and in particular, Mexican immigrants, and then he goes on to say that he thinks Hillary is just too old to assume the Commander in Chief Position.  Meanwhile Employees F, G, and H are sitting there stunned with their turkey sandwiches in hand, saying to themselves "awwwwwkward!"

This hypothetical, drawn directly from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back: Workplace Edition, shows that while the employer doesn't necessarily have a political speech problem on its hands, it may instead have sex, age, race and national origin discrimination and/or NLRA interference complaints coming its way – just from one spirited election-related conversation in the break room.  Yes, politically-related conversations often invoke passionate feelings on both sides of the aisle on issues ostensibly about public policy, but they also often touch on issues that may relate to someone's membership in a protected class, leaving employers vulnerable to discrimination and other claims.

Potential Employer Responses to Political Speech in the Workplace

As we head into Super or SEC Tuesday and the (17-month+ long!) election season plods along, you should be asking yourself what level of political discourse do you want in your workplace.  Do you want everyone to keep their political opinions to themselves or do you want to encourage robust debate or somewhere in between?  Discussion of politics and campaigning in the workplace puts you on tricky terrain, and may lead to conflict among your employees and thus, wherever you fall on this spectrum, consider addressing these issues in your code of conduct or in your handbook, including more specifically in your anti-discrimination/harassment, complaint reporting, non-solicitation/distribution and social media and electronic use policies.  In doing so, remain mindful of certain laws like the state and local laws mentioned above and the National Labor Relations Act, which restrict your ability to limit certain politically-based conversations/activities in the workplace.

If you will tolerate political discussions in the workplace, consider whether it's necessary during this election season to conduct workplace professionalism training seminars for all staff members to reduce the likelihood that a healthy debate will turn into a contentious or inappropriate one.  Or consider distributing an election-focused one-pager with helpful talking points.  For example, it may remind employees that a politically-laced, yet well-intentioned conversation, even between the best of friends, can quickly turn contentious, and thus, even though you are not banning such conversations, you are asking your employees to think twice before engaging in one.  Or if the employees do engage in such a conversation, they should be sensitive to others' beliefs and should not pressure anyone into discussing politics at work.  It also should remind them to utilize your complaint reporting mechanisms if a problem does arise from such a conversation.

Overall, employers should aim for outcomes where employees can engage in a dialogue about important issues, whether in person or electronically, during non-working hours while remaining respectful of others' points of view and aware of key discrimination and labor laws.  Employees should also understand that they may be subject to discipline for failing to meet your standards of conduct regarding political discourse.  Taking this approach should allow employers to create realistic workplace social conditions, maintain employee morale, and reduce their exposure to a lawsuit.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Michael S. Arnold
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
Fisher Phillips LLP
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
Fisher Phillips LLP
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions