Attorney: Private employees may be fired if spotted at white nationalist rally

    In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, multiple white nationalist groups march with torches through the UVA campus in Charlottesville, Va. Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia. (Mykal McEldowney/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

    When white nationalists marched with torches at the University of Virginia on Friday night, many did so without hiding their identities.

    Then a Twitter user called out one of the men later identified as Cole White, who was an employee at the California fast food chain “Top Dog”.

    White later voluntarily resigned.

    “I think the employer found out about it and didn’t want to be associated with it and it’s perfectly legal,” said employment attorney Tom Spiggle.

    Spiggle says private sector employees, who attended the rally, can certainly be fired. Many are not protected under the law in such circumstances.

    “Unless you work for the state of Virginia or unless you work for a federal agencythen it’s perfectly legal in most cases for your employer to fire you,” said Spiggle.

    “I think it’s 100% fair, if you work for a private company that cares about its public image,” said Patrick Snow.

    “I do think it’s not right for them to be justifying hate, so I do think it is fair,” said Bruce Degeneste.

    “On one hand, you got to let people believe in what they want to believe in.but on the other handpresumably, you don’t want that representing your company,” said Sam Gotter.

    “First Amendment protections only apply to government workers. So, if you work for the federal government, or, for instance, a sheriff's office, you have First Amendment rights. If you work in the private sector, you don't have any constitutional free-speech rights. In many, perhaps most, instances, a private employer can legally fire an employee for his or her speech, no matter the content. It is, however, a double-edged sword. In most states, you can be legally fired for attending a white supremacist rally or for attending a civil rights march. Four states, California, Colorado, North Dakota and New York, have laws that disallow employers from firing employees for lawful off-duty conduct. Arguably these laws would not protect an employer from participating in a violent rally. Another national and broad protection is speech that involves "concerted workplace activity," for instance, speech about pay or workplace conditions. This includes speech outside of the workplace and on social media. This protection is fairly broad and has been held by the National Labor Relations Board to protect even profane speech as long as it involves a commentary about workplace conditions,” said Spiggle.

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