Like so many others, we were horrified by the images coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. As days go by, we are starting to hear about repercussions for participants in the white supremacist/Nazi rally. Public shaming and loss of employment because of ostensibly “free speech” are two issues we talk about a lot on our blog.
Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and there is no freedom of speech in the private workplace. Unless your activity is specifically protected from retaliation by law, if your employer doesn't like what you're up to or saying during business or off-business hours, you can be fired. This includes social media postings – something we see more and more of every day.
There is some limited First Amendment protection in the public workplace, however courts have held that participation in the KKK and white supremacist organizations is not protected in the public workplace where the right to such speech is outweighed by the employer's interest in a safe and efficient workplace. Weicherding v. Riegel, 160 F.3d 1139 (7th Cir. 1998); Turner v. United States Capitol Police, 34 F.Supp.3d 124, 142 (Dist. Ct. D.C. 2014). As in most employment law scenarios, whether your activity is protected in the workplace is typically dependent upon the specific facts of your case.
While we in no way equate a hate rally with other forms of protest or political activity, if you are interested in more on related issues, we have written about the potential consequences on your employment of political activity, and striking in solidarity with certain groups (like the days without women and immigrants).