Bringing Politics into the Workplace during Election Season: A Wise Move for Employers?

by McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC
Contact

[author: Jodi Frankel]

This post was contributed by Eric N. Athey, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Law Group.

Mitt Romney recently drew criticism for commenting to the National Federation for Independent Business (NFIB) that employers should weigh in on the upcoming election when speaking to employees. Specifically, Romney told NFIB members: "I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections." Romney went on to say that there is "[n]othing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well." These comments likely had many HR professionals across the country asking, "Can employers really do that?"

Federal election laws prohibit many types of voter intimidation but do not prohibit employers from expressing their political opinions in the workplace. When it comes to employers, however, the line between political expression and employee intimidation can be blurred. An obscure Pennsylvania state law addresses this issue and makes it a crime for "any person or corporation" to intimidate voters or to otherwise interfere with the "free exercise of the elective franchise." Violations of the law can trigger a penalty of up to $5000 and imprisonment for up to two years. Given the severity of these penalties, employers who are inclined to stump for a candidate in the workplace need to be careful.

The state law prohibits several types of conduct:

  1. The use or threat to use any force or restraint, or any other manner of intimidation or coercion upon any person in order to compel the person to vote a certain way or to refrain from voting;
  2. The use of any "forcible or fraudulent device or contrivance" to interfere with any individual's vote;
  3. The payment of wages in "pay envelopes" which contain or on which is written any political motto, statement or "argument containing threats….intended….to influence the political opinions of employees"; and
  4. Displaying in the workplace, within 90 days of any election or primary, any "handbill or placard" threatening that if a particular candidate is elected all or some of the work in the establishment will cease, wages will be reduced or similar threats.

Most employers have the sense to steer far clear of these prohibitions. However, any employer that brings politics to work must remember that their commentary will be subject to varying interpretations by employees. An employer's political commentary may be perceived as threatening to some employees, though no threat was intended. To use Romney's example, merely saying that a particular candidate is better for business would pose no problem at all under Pennsylvania law. However, saying that the company will shut its doors if another candidate is elected, may well cross the line.  

The main point is that an employer is free to openly support a candidate. Displaying signs with a candidate's name should not be perceived by anyone as threatening or intimidating. However, if an employer feels compelled to address employees directly, it is important to consider the audience and the restrictions imposed by state law. Like the political candidates themselves, employers who want to give their own campaign speech should confer with their consultants (i.e., HR and counsel) before stepping up to the podium.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC
Contact
more
less

McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.