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Warning: Be careful talking politics at work

Get this: your boss can legally fire you if he or she doesn't like your political views. Seriously.

Get this: your boss can legally fire you if he or she doesn't like your political views.


To put it another way: You're legally protected by federal law from getting fired for being gay or too young or too old or because of your race, religion or your gender. But if you're a Democrat, there's good reason to believe you don't have the same protection.

You can thank the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United vs. the FCC  in 2009.  According to the synopsis on the non-partisan, the ruling turned political spending into a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.

The justices decided that companies and unions can't give money directly to campaigns.  However, the federal government can't keep companies or unions from denouncing or supporting candidates, either, even if that amounts to spending a theoretically unlimited amount of money on ad time.

But what legal scholars are beginning to realize is that the Citizens United decision is changing a lot more than campaign contribution rules.  As Professor Paul Secunda of Marquette University Law School explains in the Yale Law Journal, the ruling might put American workers at risk.

Secunda says, "there is no federal law that would prevent a corporation from requiring, on pain of termination, that employees attend meetings or other politically-oriented events."  Your boss can hold meetings to tell you who to vote for.  They can ask you personally who you'll vote for.

And if you live in an "at-will" state, which is just about every state (if you're interested, check your own state's rules to make sure), your boss could send you packing if he or she doesn't like your answer.

Here's the bottom line:  Your boss has the First Amendment right to tell you who to vote for, but you could lose your job if you tell them you disagree.  Even if you say it nicely.

This is the first presidential election cycle in which bosses have had this legal wiggle room.

As we reported last week, more bosses are starting to exercise their newfound freedoms.  David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts, Richard Lacks of Lacks Enterprises, Robert Murray of Murray Energy, and David and Charles Koch of Koch Industries have all publicly confirmed sending e-mails or voting packets to their employees—or, in Murray's, asking employees to attend a rally for Mitt Romney.  Murray's workers claim they didn't even get paid during their attendance.

All of these bosses are enjoying record-breaking, or near record-breaking, profits under the Obama administration.  But all of them are telling their employees to vote for Romney, even if Romney's policies go against the employee's best interests.

So what would you do if your boss pressured you about politics?  Maybe the best policy for this presidential election is to keep your mouth shut on the job and vote (by a secret ballot) your conscience.