May an employer prevent an employee from wearing a badge or t-shirt or otherwise displaying support for a particular political party at work?

Author: William Denham, Shortt & Nguyen, PC

Yes. An employer in the private sector may prevent employees from displaying support for a political party at work. Employees in the private sector have no First Amendment rights to display support for any political party, particularly when those displays create tangible disruptions in the workplace. However, some state or local laws may provide more extensive protections than the First Amendment. An employer should consult the relevant state law.

An employer in the public sector may, under certain circumstances, prevent employees from displaying support for a particular political party at work. Courts generally balance the government's need to maintain an effective and efficient workforce against the individual's First Amendment rights and interests to determine if those circumstances exist. An employer should also consult the relevant state law.

However, if the political insignia the employee seeks to display concerns a union, the employee may have a claim under the National Labor Relations Act, which permits employees to display union insignia even in a nonunion workplace. An employer is permitted to implement neutral policies that prohibit certain types of clothing, such as t-shirts, but only if the employer bans all t-shirts in the workplace and the policy is applied in a uniform manner.