Last week, I reminded employers that you can stand with Ukraine. Just remember to stand up for your Russian employees too. Many now stand with Ukraine against Vladimir Putin and his decision to invade Ukraine.
But suppose an employee, Russian or otherwise, speaks out in support of Putin. Can you fire him?
You wouldn’t be the first to deal with this.
Over the weekend, I read Rachael Bunyan’s article in The Daily Mail about a Virginia public school that suspended a substitute Spanish teacher who expressed approval — in class — for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, while encouraging students to read Russian propaganda outlets.
The dynamic is a bit different with public employers. Public employees have limited rights to free speech under the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects the speech of a public employee who speaks in his role as a private citizen about a matter of public concerns without interfering with his job. In the substitute teacher’s situation, his speech interfered with his job — which is teaching Spanish, not about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
But there are no such free speech protections in the private sector, at least not as a matter of federal law. Even under state law, I’m not aware of any that would protect the reported actions of the Spanish substitute.
So, can you fire someone for showing support in work for Vladimir Putin? The answer is yes.
But let’s change the facts around. Suppose an employee tweets his support for Putin outside of work. Can you still fire him?
Again, the answer generally is yes — unless you are in a handful-or-so of states with off-duty conduct laws that prohibit employers from penalizing employees for lawful activity, including speech, in which employees engage outside of work.
Of course, ‘can you’ and ‘should you’ are two different questions. Who do you think? Take five seconds to vote in this anonymous two-question poll about firing employees who express support for Vladimir Putin, and I’ll post the results tomorrow.