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.