Political Conversations in the Workplace

In case you haven’t been reading the news, or watching tv, or listening to the radio, or checking your Social Media account, this is an election year.  As such, it is inevitable that a political conversation will arise at work.

Political rights and free speech are not absolute in the workplace.  Employers, particularly in Florida are guaranteed the right to discipline or even terminate employees for being disruptive or unproductive.  However there are certain types of political activities that are protected.

While no federal or state law protects from discrimination based on “political views or affiliation” there is still some already existing protections that may apply.

  1. Your supervisor makes discriminatory remarks about the race or gender of a certain candidate, and you report these comments.

You are protected from retaliation under Florida and US law.  Discriminatory statements, comments or jokes are detrimental to harmony in the workplace, whether they are politically motivated or not.  If an employee is terminated for reporting such activity, he/she is guaranteed protection under state and federal law and the employer may be found liable for wrongful termination.

  1. Your employer fires you for voting for a particular candidate, or for not voting at all.

This is actually a felony under Florida § 104.081 “It is unlawful for any person having one or more persons in his or her service as employees to discharge or threaten to discharge any employee in his or her service for voting or not voting in any election, state, county, or municipal, for any candidate or measure submitted to a vote of the people. Any person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a felony of the third degree”

  1. You request time off work to go to voting precinct on Election Day and your employer denies your request.

Florida has no laws governing requests for time off to vote.  Municipal and local ordinances vary depending on jurisdiction.  However, the State of Florida grants county Supervisors of Election broad authority in coordinating early voting times and locations.  These early voting locations are generally open for at least a week prior to Election Day and include weekends.  Check with your local Supervisor of Elections for more details regarding early or absentee voting.

Workplace Bullying: When does Uncomfortable become Unlawful?

In most workplaces there is a fair amount of unwanted harassment and “bullying”, most corporations have strict rules in place to curb this type of behavior.  It has long been seen as bad for morale and causes unneeded tress and turnover in most occupations.  In Florida, there are no “anti-bullying laws”, however, there is a point where bullying crosses over into discrimination and harassment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigates hundreds of charges of workplace discrimination and harassment each year.  In Florida, the agency often pairs with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) to investigate these charges and determine probable cause and jurisdiction.

The most common charges that lead in lawsuits are based on workplace harassment that is based on discriminatory remarks and exclusionary practices.  Under federal law, employers may not discriminate against an employee or applicant based on race, color, religion, sex, marital status, ethnicity, age (40 or older), or disability.  Discrimination, harassment, and favoritism that is not based on these characteristics is not protected under federal or state law.

When Does Harassment Become Illegal?

Offhand remarks and general poor humor is not necessarily a base for a discrimination lawsuit.   In order to prove an employer is violating federal law, it must be proven that the employer is being abusive, threatening or hostile and enduring the harassment has become a condition of employment.

The unlawful action can be committed by the victim’s supervisor, co-workers or another employee/supervisor in a different office.  The behavior does not have to be directed towards you, but may be indirect in a way that makes you feel threatened or intimidated.  Example of this may be religiously offensive materials being posted in a break room, or circulating mass emails that are intended to harass or provoke discriminatory behavior.  Ultimately, the employer is responsible for maintaining a safe environment and may be held liable for the harassment/discrimination committed by its employees.

Many employers have been proactive in curbing harassment in the work place.  Many programs include interactive training seminars for supervisors and employees, as well as more stringent enforcement of existing policies.  Currently, only three states have anti-bullying laws on the books, but bills have been introduced in 23 others, including Florida.  The Florida “Abusive Workplace Environments” Bill was proposed in 2013, but gained no traction in the Florida State legislature.

If you believe you are a victim of workplace bullying or harassment, you can contact the law office of Massey & Duffy in Gainesville.  Our attorneys are experienced in Employment and Labor Law and known throughout North Florida as one of the top resources for employees who suffer unlawful discrimination and harassment by their employers.  We offer FREE CONSULTATIONS for all employment related cases and are available to represent you.  Please give us a call at (352) 505-8900.