Last week, a company in Pennsylvania made headlines when they told employees to either attend a Trump rally, take a vacation day, or take a day off. It seems like an abuse of power for a company to demand attendance at a political rally. (Although technically, it was an "official event" and not a campaign one, that is just semantics. Trump's opponents are campaigning heavily, and Trump urged attendees to vote for him.)
Lots of people were upset, but this falls into one of those categories of things you can do, but you should not do. As employment attorney Jon Hyman says, it's a terrible idea, "but in all likelihood, there is nothing illegal about this practice."
Companies Support Presidential Candidates
We shouldn't be shocked that companies and their leadership want to support specific politicians. And we also shouldn't be shocked that your boss doesn't always agree with your political views. Trump won Beaver County, Pennsylvania (where this rally took place), with 58 percent of the vote, so it's not an unreasonable place for Trump to expect supporters.
And people are paid to attend political rallies. A 2015 Atlantic article talked about companies dedicated to paying people to attend rallies. In 2012, the Romney campaign supposedly filled a campaign rally with coal miners required (but not paid) to attend.
Silicon Valley companies paid people to attend Trump protests, in the form of a paid day off.
It's a bipartisan issue.
Why Is This Legal?
You have no right to free speech at work. Some areas, California, notably, protect political speech (but that didn't stop Google from firing James Damore for his political speech). Telling an employee to use a vacation day, come to the rally, or forgo pay would seem to be violating that law. But this was Pennsylvania, which, to the best of my knowledge, has no such protection for political speech.
Companies can, of course, choose to shut down operations on any day of the week. Non-exempt employees are not paid if they don't work, so that's perfectly legal. Exempt employees have to be paid if they worked any part of the week, but you can require that they use a vacation day (if available).
Why This Is a Bad Idea
Companies can donate to political candidates. CEOs can give to political candidates. Anybody can donate. Anybody can attend a rally. I'm certainly in favor of companies allowing people to use their vacation days to participate in such events.
But, making it a paid, company endorsed activity crosses the line--whether it be a Trump rally in Pennsylvania or an immigration protest in California. Politics doesn't need to invade every aspect of our lives. We shouldn't have to worry about having the "wrong" political view at work. We shouldn't have to fear that our boss thinks less of us because we support a different candidate than he or she does.
We should be kind to one another. We should follow all laws prohibiting discrimination. But we should be able to say "I don't like this candidate" or "I like this policy" without fear of retribution. At work, we should be judged on our ability to do our jobs and follow the law, and nothing else.
I don't know what the leadership of this Pennsylvania company thought people would think. Perhaps because the county was a Trump stronghold, they thought everyone would cheer the idea. But you'll be hard-pressed to find any company of any reasonable size that has 100 percent agreement on a particular political candidate. And you don't want your disagreeing employees (on either side of the aisle) to feel pressure to follow your political beliefs.