Politics and the person who signs the paycheck

A few of the social networking sites I frequent have been abuzz in recent days about employers who send letters to employees telling them how they should vote or, at the very least, “informing them’ about what candidate is likely to lead to their layoffs.

Until 2010, the New York Times reported this weekend, federal law barred using corporate money to urge employees to support specific politicians.

That leads to the obvious question: Could your boss fire you for voting the “wrong way?”

Eugene Volokh at the law blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, provides the answer today.


These laws also date back a long time; indeed, the earliest laws that we might view as bans on discrimination in employment involved bans on discrimination based on voting (long before there were laws that banned discrimination based on union membership, race, religion, and the like).

As early as the 1700s, several colonies and states barred any “attempt to overawe, affright, or force, any person qualified to vote, against his inclination or conscience,” and some also barred, “after the … election is over, menac[ing], despitefully us[ing] or abus[ing] any person because he hath not voted as he or they would have had him.” These voter protection laws seem to have covered threats not just of physical violence but also of legal coercion, for instance a jailer’s threat to revoke a bail-like release based on the inmate’s vote (there was an 1815 South Carolina conviction on that very point). And they may have covered threats of economic retaliation as well — a similarly general 1854 English statute was applied to threats of economic retaliation and not just those of physical attack. The bans on threats, from 1721 to the 1860s, were included alongside bans on bribery; given that offering to provide a financial benefit in exchange for a vote was forbidden, it makes sense that threatening to deny a financial benefit in exchange for a vote would have been forbidden as well.

But even though the boss is free to talk politics at you, you’re not necessarily free to talk politics back, according to Marketplace.

  • Kassie

    While my employer doesn’t inform us about candidates, my union has been working very, very hard to get out the word on our endorsed candidates. Basically, the message is, “if you don’t vote for these candidates, you won’t get a raise this year, you won’t get a raise for the next two years and you will likely be laid off this July for some amount of time as there will be another shutdown.”

    It amazes me how many of my co-workers vote with something other than their pocketbook in local elections.

  • jon

    file under Corporations aren’t people too.

    We’d probably have an issue if a person cut their hand off because they disagreed with the check marks it made on a ballot… but if a corporation does it, then it’s some how normal and o.k.

  • Kurt Nelson

    Here is a follow-up from Volokh:

    “All this means, I think, that employers remain largely free to argue to their employees how the employees should vote, and to warn of dire economic consequences for the employer — and therefore to the employees — if an election (whether union, local, state, or federal) comes out a particular way. The mere possibility that some employees will take any message from their employer as coercive does not strip the employer of its constitutional rights.

    If the employer threatens reprisals “to be taken solely on [its] own volition,” for instance because of management pique, that speech would indeed be treated as a constitutionally unprotected, and could lead to civil liability or even criminal punishment (if the relevant jurisdiction’s law does prohibit such speech). But if the employer is making an argument based on projected economic consequences “beyond the employer’s control,” such as forecast greater regulation, higher taxes, and so on, then that speech is constitutionally protected”.

  • Chuck

    What’s to stop employees from voting however they want, despite their employer’s best efforts? It’s not like the employer is going to look over the person’s shoulder in the ballot box.

  • http://www.aplaceinmound.com gml4

    This all reminds me of a “Thought for the week” notice my wife received from her financial advisor. Seemed kinda overhanded “Vote for who we want you to vote for, or else your investments will tank”… but I guess politics ain’t beanbags eaither…

    “Our current feeling is that a Romney victory will be positive for stock markets.”

    “Many strategists believe the best way to revive the economy is for a tax overhaul along the lines

    advocated by Paul Ryan which should boost muni bond prices.”

    If Obama wins, it warns…

    “most investors believe a second Obama term is bearish for the economy and stocks, given his intention to raise taxes”

    “President Obama’s potential difficulty in bringing

    about a swift bipartisan agreement on the fiscal cliff”

  • Kevin Watterson

    The unions are already telling people there’s going to be a shutdown?