Can You Threaten to Fire Employees if They Don't Vote for a Particular Candidate?

iStock_000018270897XSmall.jpgCan you, as a Michigan employer, encourage your employees to vote for a particular candidate or ballot proposal? If so, how far can you go in trying to "persuade" employees to vote consistent with your company's positions?

The short answer to these questions is that Michigan law places certain restrictions on employers when it comes to encouraging employees to vote for employer approved candidates or measures, but employers have significant leeway short of violating these restrictions. 

Mr. Romney to Employers - Nothing illegal about getting employees to vote for me.   

In a conference call hosted by the conservative-leaning National Federation of Independent Businesses, Mitt Romney implored employers to encourage their employees to vote for him for President. Specifically, Mr. Romney said:   

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business ...

To make sure there was no confusion who Mr. Romney believed had employers' best interests in mind, he further explained that President Barack Obama's policies have hurt employers with "an anti-business, anti-job agenda."

Can Michigan Employers Encourage their Employees to Vote a Particular Way?

Regardless of what political leanings you or your company has, before following Mr. Romney's direction, Michigan employers need to carefully understand what can and cannot be communicated to employees when it comes to making voting recommendations. This is because Michigan law specifically prohibits an employer from communicating threats - direct or indirect - of discharge for the purpose of influencing an employee's vote.

The specific Michigan restriction against employers trying to persuade employees to vote a particular way reads:

A person shall not, either directly or indirectly, discharge or threaten to discharge an employee of the person for the purpose of influencing the employee's vote at an election.

MCL § 168.931

While Mr. Romney did not ask employers to threaten employees with termination or other discipline in order to win their votes, other employers have made headlines for warning workers of anticipated bad consequences if they don't vote in favor of Mr. Romney specifically and Republicans generally.

Should Michigan Employers Encourage Employees to Vote a Particular Way? 

Aside from Michigan's statutory restriction against employers trying to persuade employees to vote a particular way through terminations or threats of terminations, employers have their own free speech rights.

In that regard, employers certainly have broad leeway to say what they want about a particular candidate or ballot proposal, including strongly suggesting that employees vote for candidates and measures that employers support. And to a certain point, it is good business strategy to make sure employees understand the issues. Personally, I would rather have employees learning as much about a candidate or ballot measure to make an educated decision before actually casting a vote.

However, before pursuing this strategy, it is important to understand what can and cannot be done in promoting employee voting. Additionally, there are other Michigan and federal election related laws that employers will want to comply with, which will also need to be addressed. To discuss these and related employment law issues, contact Jason Shinn at Shinn Legal, PLC.