On Wednesday, GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney sent a company-wide email to his employees, complaining about the results of the Presidential election and strongly suggesting that employees who voted for Donald Trump should resign, as their values no longer fit with GrubHub’s corporate culture.
The email was a public relations disaster, giving rise to both a massive social media boycott, and a frantic public relations walk-back.
But Maloney is hardly the first major employer to try to bend his workforce’s beliefs to his own — and, it turns out, applying political pressure to employees is a bipartisan pastime in the corporate world.
And while Maloney’s actions appear unethical and from a business standpoint, unwise, firing an employee for his or her voting record, political beliefs or political activity may be perfectly legal depending where you live.
If your employer is a private company, and you are an “at-will” employee (not bound by a union or other employment contract), most states give your employer freedom to terminate your employment for nearly any reason, including whether you support (or don’t support) a particular political candidate.
Federal law doesn’t make political affiliation a protected class, and employers themselves have a constitutional right to free speech — so even Maloney’s letter to employees strongly suggesting those that lean Trump have no place in his workforce – is technically protected.
Of course, if you live in a few select states and are employed by GrubHub, you have a bit more protection. According to California attorney Kurt Schlicter — an outspoken conservative — California, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina, West Virginia and select cities in Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin all have laws protecting employees from employer retaliation over their political beliefs.
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) November 11, 2016
Even employees in other states may still be protected, though not explicitly by law. In Pennsylvania, for example, state courts have interpreted non-discrimination guarantees in Pennsylvania’s constitution to extend to political speech. And other activities, like an employer coercing employees to donate to a particular candidate, are illegal under other provisions of Federal law.
GrubHub’s case may be more complicated, as well, because Maloney’s words could be interpreted as retaliation, not simply discrimination.
Employees in Florida, for example, aren’t explicitly protected from being fired for their political beliefs, but do have the right to be free of an employer’s wrath over their ballot. Employees in Oregon can’t be confronted with “undue influence” over their political decisions; they can’t be told they’ll lose their job, or that their job will be made more difficult, if they vote a particular way.
The bulk of GrubHub’s workforce lies in Chicago which offers no such protections. And luckily for GrubHub, union-heavy states like Illinois are often reticent to curb free speech powers for employers — because unions like the AFL-CIO frequently instruct their membership, and their workshops, one how to cast their ballots.
But since GrubHub has offshoots in several major cities, it’s not hard to believe that Trump-supporting employees may be consulting employment attorneys, anyway.
And it’s certainly not stopping the boycott.