Private employers generally are permitted to make employment decisions based on an employee's political affiliation. However, government employers generally cannot discriminate against an employee because of his or her political affiliation. This is because the government cannot make employment conditional on a person’s surrendering his or her First Amendment rights to political belief and expression. Political affiliation discrimination, also known as political patronage discrimination, includes firing, failing to hire, demoting, or failing to promote an employee because he or she:
Belongs to a particular political party;
Supported a particular political candidate, whether of the same or a different party as the person who made the employment decision; or
Failed to support a particular candidate or party.
There are exceptions to this prohibition on discrimination, such as when a particular political affiliation is a requirement of a high-ranking or advisory position. However, for most “rank and file” employees, it is illegal for a government employer to fire an employee for political reasons. Still, a surprising number of new administrations engage in “cleaning house” when they take office, and replace non-supporters with supporters.
If you are or were a public employee and believe you may have lost a job because of your political affiliation, or lack thereof, please contact a Western Pennsylvania employment attorney at Elzer Law Firm, LLC for a consultation.