Republican candidate Mitt Romney has reportedly stated to a group of small business owners that he hopes they have made “very clear” to their employees “what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.” At the beginning of October, Koch Industries, owned by the billionaire businessmen and conservative activists Charles and David Koch, issued a letter to its employees expressing its political views and suggesting which candidates they should support.
May New Jersey employers lobby their employees in such a manner?
The answer is that employers in the Garden State should be very wary about telling their employees for whom to vote or otherwise expressing their political views. Under New Jersey law, an employer may not threaten its employees with “injury, damage, harm or loss” to induce them to vote for a particular candidate or as retaliation for having done so. N.J.S.A. 19:34-27. In addition, an employer may not “within ninety days of an election” display in the workplace a notice threatening that if a particular political party or candidate is elected then work “will cease, in whole or in part, or [the] establishment [will] be closed up, or the salaries or wages of his employees [will] be reduced, or [any] other threat, express or implied, intended or calculated to influence the political opinions or actions of his employees.” N.J.S.A. 19:34-30.
A letter such as that authored by Koch Industries, which warns the company’s “more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors” that they may “suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills,” arguably violates N.J.S.A. 19:34-30. A New Jersey employer would be wise to refrain from sending such a letter to its employees.
New Jersey law also prohibits employers from mandating attendance at politically-sponsored events. Specifically, the Worker Freedom from Employer Intimidation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-9 through 34:19-14, passed in 2006, prohibits employers from requiring employees to attend employer-sponsored meetings or participate in communications in order to convey the employer’s opinion about political matters.
Bottom line for employers: Keep politics out of the workplace. There is very little upside and significant downside.