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What the law says about employees running for political office

It may seem hard to believe but Election Day is now just a few weeks away, meaning the number of television ads, campaign signs and mail fliers are only going to increase.

Interestingly, it isn't just purely political matters that are making headlines this election season, as a rather noteworthy employment law-related story has recently played out in the state of Florida.

Here, a woman employed by Marriott Vacations Worldwide was fired after she declined to give up her candidacy for the elected position of County Commissioner. Here, the global timeshare company indicated that the reason for the termination was twofold: the employee hadn't notified the company of her intention to run and her candidacy created the possibility of conflicts of interest.

All this of course begs the question as to whether it is legal for a private employer to prohibit employees from running for an elected office.

It may comes as something of a surprise, but legal experts indicate that private employers are indeed permitted to ban their employees from running for office and that doing so is not considered to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, courts across the nation have established a common-law rule dictating essentially the same thing, holding that the prevailing rule in American employment is "employment at will."

This means that absent any contractual provision or potential violation of state law (i.e., anti-discrimination statute) employers can terminate their employees for any reason or no reason whatsoever, including their decision to run for office, which they may view as problematic for a variety of reasons.

It is important to note, however, that 17 states have actually taken action in direct opposition to this legal precedent by passing statutes that expressly prohibit private employers from banning their employees from running for office or engaging in "political activity."

Some of the states included in this minority include New York, California, North Dakota, Indiana and Minnesota.

If you have a question about your employee rights under state law or believe that you were the victim of wrongful termination, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

Source: The Washington Post, "May a private employer threaten to fire employees for running for political office?" Eugene Volokh, Sept. 29, 2014

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