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Can you be fired for sharing your political opinions?

Employment Lawyer Peter McSherry cautions that employers in Ontario can legally terminate you if they do not like your political views

As the war between Israel and Hamas intensifies, there has been various political comments made and actions taken supporting both sides of this conflict. Depending on your point of view, those activities could get you in trouble with your boss.

An Air Canada pilot was recently grounded after he wore pro-Palestinian colours and posted social media comments allegedly containing profane remarks about Israel. In another case, the Ford government called for Hamilton-Centre MPP Sarah Jama’s resignation after statements she made on social media called for the end of “all occupation of Palestinian land.” The government is asking the House Speaker not to recognize Jama until she retracts and deletes her statement.

In this environment of heightened sensitivity and easy access to social media and cellphone cameras, employers can easily learn about an employee’s political leanings and activities. Peter McSherry, an employment lawyer in Guelph is cautioning people to be aware that they could risk discipline or even termination because of perceived political statements and actions, even those outside of work, if your boss finds them offensive.

McSherry says, “Depending on the terms of someone’s employment contract, they may only receive what is mandated under the Employment Standards Act. An employer may terminate a younger, short-service employee and pay them what is required under the Employment Standards Act, which could make it difficult for them to receive a good reference and find another job quickly.” Employees are increasingly reprimanded, or even fired for off-duty conduct that may not be illegal but could be embarrassing to the employer or the company brand.

You might be surprised to learn that in Ontario political beliefs or convictions are not expressly protected from discrimination at work. Ontario is one of three provinces where employees are not protected from termination because of their political views. The other two provinces are Alberta and Saskatchewan.

What about the right to free expression?

Free expression and all Charter rights only apply to government actions that limit those rights. If you work for a private firm, the Charter does not apply to your employer’s actions. If you work for the government, then you may have a right to express yourself, but even that has limits. McSherry warns, “You do have a constitutional right to say what’s on your mind, but you should realize that there could possibly be employment implications, particularly if you’re outspoken about your political views in writing.” If your boss tells you to stop voicing your opinions, it is not contrary to the principle of free expression.

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, or disability. Creed could potentially encompass a political perspective. McSherry says, “Religious beliefs or ethnic origins on either side of a political conflict might be protected, but others outside of those groups would not have such protections.”

This does not mean that an employer in Ontario can terminate employees with impunity for their political views. It might still be a wrongful dismissal entitling the employee to damages, but it would not result in reinstatement or additional damages under human rights legislation.

Get the advice of a lawyer

The line is not always clear. Expressing certain political opinions can be cause for discipline or dismissal if those comments violate human rights legislation. McSherry says, “The worst-case scenario as an employee is that you get terminated with cause because your comments veer into hate crime. You could find yourself terminated for cause with no compensation and receive no sympathy from a court.”

However, you could also be terminated without cause in the short term and with the assistance of a lawyer you may possibly receive additional compensation. Peter McSherry adds, “You have a right to free expression but be cautious about what you say and have a clear understanding of what could happen.”

If you are facing backlash from your employer over political comments or actions that you’ve taken, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer who can offer you advice on what your next steps should be.

If you are dealing with an issue related to a conflict with your employer, Peter McSherry can help you understand your entitlements, obligations, and legal risks. Contact Peter at (519) 821-5465, Email: [email protected] or visit