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Can you lose your job for participating in a protest?

On Behalf of | Sep 16, 2021 | Wrongful Termination |

In recent years, Americans of all ages have felt compelled to take to the streets and participate in protests, marches and rallies in support of or in opposition to a cause or politician. Many of these events are largely peaceful. Some, unfortunately, turn extremely violent and destructive. 

You’ve likely heard of people losing their job after being seen at a protest. Often, these people are caught on camera breaking the law or espousing views that most Americans find objectionable. Nonetheless, you may wonder if you’re risking your job by participating in a protest.

California law

The good news is that as a California employee, you have more rights than employees in many other states. Lawful political activity that employees engage in on their own time is protected. Further, under California law, employers cannot prevent employees “from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.”

However, as one law professor at the University of San Diego says, if you’re charged with criminal activity, your employer “is not under an obligation, according to case law, to wait until two years from now to see a conviction.” Like most states, California is an “at-will” employment state. That means an employer can fire you for any reason that’s not illegal -– such as discrimination or retaliation for whistleblowing. 

A word about the First Amendment

Americans often think that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects their right to express their views without consequences. However, the First Amendment only addresses consequences by the government, such as arrest. Private entities and individuals are free to impose their own consequences within the law.

Most Californians can engage in peaceful, lawful protest and espouse their views on any number of issues on their own time without fear of losing their job. Nonetheless, it’s important to be smart about it. 

Saying something on social media or carrying a sign at a protest that could well damage your employer’s business or reputation is never a good move. Nonetheless, if you believe you were wrongfully terminated for participating in a protest or other lawful event, it’s wise to learn more about your legal rights.