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April 11, 2016
Around election time, people become impassioned about politics and the political choices that other people “ought” to be making. This passion can follow them to the most inappropriate of places: work. At work, employers are generally encouraged to be focused on the job at hand. However, when employers are involved in a Political Action Committee (PAC), awkwardness can arise. This is intensified when superiors want their employees to contribute to a PAC—or to campaign for or against candidates.
Discussing politics is one thing. Pressuring and soliciting workers to contribute financially to a PAC is another matter altogether. Whether such activity is illegal is still up for question. The law as it stands (both federal law and Georgia state law) says that employers can make requests of their workers where politics is concerned. However, they cannot force workers. Though this seems comforting, this vagueness might actually make the situation worse for employees. Why? A boss will know who has refused to contribute and can punish him accordingly (and surreptitiously). Federal law regarding politics is explicit in its statement that employers may not force employers to contribute, stating that a corporation cannot use “coercion, such as the threat of a detrimental job action, the threat of any other financial reprisal, or the threat of force, to urge any individual to make a contribution or engage in fundraising activities on behalf of a candidate or political committee.”
Cases alleging coercion to contribute to a PAC have gone to trial. One example is the highly publicized case that was brought against Murray Energy. The Federal Election Committee dismissed the case. One of the problems for employees who believe they are under pressure to support the politics of their employer by contributing to a PAC is that in Georgia, there are no laws to help an employee who experiences retaliation for failure to contribute to a political cause. However, these laws do exist in California Washington and New York.
The equivocal nature of the law makes it possible for a company that is powerful enough to flout it. Walmart is one company that is well known for its attempts to ensure that employees contribute to its PAC. The company is in favor of candidates that are not acting in their best interests in terms of employment law, but are most definitely in the interests of Walmart. The candidates that Walmart has supported in the past have stated their intentions to refuse increases of the minimum wage. Yet Walmart’s financial schemes were not actually illegal, as they were linked to charities that were separate from the company itself.
The bottom line is that when politics starts heating up, employers are able to take advantage of a loophole in the law. As companies are unable to directly donate to a PAC, they have managed to manipulate their employees into doing it for them. Although the regulations of the Federal Election Committee ostensibly prohibit coercing employees into making contributions, the divide between encouragement and force is unclear.
If you have any additional questions about this subject or employment law in general, please contact PCW Law Firm.