Is “check to see if any employees came out to support Nazis or White Supremacist” the new normal for HR? After this weekend’s tragic and despicable events in Virginia, it looks like the answer is yes.
The events in question involved a rally of white supremacist, KKK members, and Neo-Nazis that took place at the University of Virginia. Numerous videos showcase why these organizations should be despised. Further, a peaceful counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was tragically killed and more were injured when a white supremacist is alleged to have deliberately driven his car into a crowd.
However, these hate-mongers who once hid behind hoods and on the fringe are being called out for their actions. Consider the following:
- The Washington Post (by Maura Judkis) reported one individual was fired after he was photographed marching with torch wielding Nazis, White Supremacist, and/or KKK members. The employee, Cole White, was identified online and his photo was widely circulated.
- CNN reported about an online crowdsourcing campaign that identifies demonstrators who attended white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. The campaign, led by a Twitter account, @YesYoureRacist, asks people on social media to identify white nationalists who appear in news photos of “Unite the Right” rallies.
So this raises the question of whether employers face any risks in firing an employee for off-duty attendance at a rally supporting hate-groups like the Klan or Neo-Nazis.
For private employers, the short answer is no. Michigan, like most states, is an “at-will” employment state meaning the employment relationship may be ended for any reason that is not unlawful discrimination. Supporting racist views is not a protected category.
Further, First Amendment and free assembly protections apply to government action – not private-sector employers. But even those protections probably do not extend to circumstances like those presented over the weekend.
And if you are a Michigan employer and you have questions about firing an employee who has participated in a Neo-Nazi/KKK rally or other hate groups, please feel free to contact us for a pro bono consultation. Simply put: while some American politicians are ok with legitimizing or tolerating Nazi salutes, chanting derogatory statements about blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, or LGBTQ, or others, I do not believe that business leaders should. Do this for the good of your company and for the good of society.