The right to free speech is entrenched in the US Constitution. We have the right to speak our political views, to speak our opinions, and to speak out about what matters to us. We all know this and respect it (even when we don’t like the other person’s view). This allows to protest and express our opinions for all to see.
This is all legal until the protest incites violence or turns violent. The white-supremacists groups who protests in Charlottesville resulted in three deaths and outraged a nation. Personally, I do not understand how a person can hate to such an extreme to think they are better than anyone based on skin color and to have this hatred drive them to commit murder. I have been speechless and angry ever since. Many of you probably feel the same way.
While many of us were states away feeling helpless, the internet took on it’s own protest – identify the protesters and call them out of the shadows. It has been confirmed one white supremacist has since lost his job.
I have seen the questions raised about “can employers do this?”. The short answer is yes.
Here’s the longer answer.
Companies will always protect their brand and their reputation. That’s no different from individuals.
Most employee handbooks have a section on unacceptable behavior – this can range from tardiness to theft. Typically included in the list is outside work behavior which can cause harm to the company. This clause has been used when employees drink too much at client events, lewd behavior, and others. As you can imagine, most companies do not want to be associated with white supremacist on moral grounds and they don’t want to lose customers due to one employee’s behavior.
This behavior along with At-Will employment statutes in most states allows employers to terminate employees. Violent protests are not a protected activity. Freedom of speech does not mean “freedom from consequences”.
Can other situations give rise to the same consequences – possibly. It would require a discussion and an understanding of the situation. As always – speak to your attorney if you have legal concerns.