In response to the photos circulating of Charlottesville neo-Nazis, a number of my friends have asked whether it is ok for them to be fired from their jobs for attending the rally. I am curious what you think. Comments are open; please post your ideas below. Hate speech will of course not be tolerated.
Here's why I think employers have a perfect right to know who was there and to take action at their discretion. First of all, if an adult shows up in a public space and takes violent (physical or non-physical, and yes, violence can be non-physical) action against Black lives, should they not expect to be held accountable for those actions? "But what if the union can prove that it does not affect their ability to do their job?" I cannot think of a line of work, even tech jobs in which one is mostly in front of a computer all day, that involves no human interaction. Interacting with other humans in an effective way involves the ability to communicate non-violently and to interact respectfully with POC and Jews.
If an employer can fire someone only because of something the person did while on the job, that seems to put the onus on the employer’s customer to report the employee's racism and to advocate for themselves, when really it should be the employer's responsibility to hire people who will be respectful and who at least meet a moral baseline of "tolerance" in the first place (a problematic term itself, I know). Posting photos of the people at the Charlottesville rally does not mean the neo-Nazis didn't have the legal right to free speech (though the question of whether hate speech should be legally protected is another issue to debate), but means simply that employers and people in their social sphere have the right to know with whom they're dealing.
A friend wondered how would I feel in the reverse, if, for example, I was fired from my job for attending a rally in support of Mike Brown? When I attend public demonstrations, I expect people who see me there (or see photographs taken of me there) to think something about me because of it. My presence makes a public statement that I stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. I realize there may be people who will decide to not employ me or associate with me because of the social justice work I have done. I am privileged enough to be comfortable taking that risk, and can comfortably say I have no interest in being friends with or working for racists. I should think those who show up at a white supremacy rally can also expect to be judged for the public stand they've taken and face the consequences, some of which may be the termination of jobs and friendships.
Though there are debates about whether an employee can ethically be terminated for off-the-job activity, this particular action feels different. If I were convicted of vehicular manslaughter after a bad car accident, it would not necessarily impact my ability to teach kindergarten. It might indicate that I should not be trusted with school vehicles, but if that weren't part of my job description in the first place, it's irrelevant. It would not say anything about me as a human being. It would not indicate how I am likely to behave and the choices I am likely to make in the future, the way attending a white supremacy rally does. As far as I know (and correct me if I'm wrong), though public displays of hate are legal in the USA, it is just as legal to fire someone because of those displays. In employment law, white supremacists are not a protected class.