The protest this week that led to an invasion of the U.S. Capitol was something that the world watched in horror. How much more horrifying would it be if you recognized someone climbing the Capitol wall or ripping something out of a congressional chamber--and that person was your employee?

Can you fire someone for that?

Well, maybe. 

Suspend and investigate

You may think you have all the information you need with a snapshot you saw on Instagram. You might. But, it doesn't hurt to suspend first while you conduct a thorough investigation. 

There have been plenty of times that a picture or video seen on the internet wasn't the whole story. You may be angry and want to protect your business's reputation--and that's understandable--but take the time to investigate. 

In addition to the suspension, you probably want to quarantine any employees who were there, not social distancing, and not wearing a mask. You can do this while you conduct your investigation. 

What are your policies?

You don't have a rioting policy in place? Well, sadly to say, you should. There's a huge difference between someone who went to the protest, protested peacefully, and didn't breach the Capitol and someone who did this:

While people don't generally have first amendment rights at work (there are exceptions), you don't generally want to punish someone for disagreeing with you politically.

In this case

he's wearing his work badge--which is a very different situation than someone who isn't identifying his employer. Take the time to think through these things.

Check your state laws.

While you almost certainly can fire someone who destroys property and commits treasonous acts, you may or may not be able to fire someone for marching and protesting--even if you find their views abhorrent. State laws vary. For instance, California has very strict protections:

Employers may not adopt or enforce any rule, regulation, or policy that forbids or prevents employees from taking part in politics or becoming candidates for public office. Employers may not control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees or threaten to fire an employee for engaging or refusing to engage in certain political activity. Political activity covers any activity related to a candidate or cause.

Connecticut, on the other hand, has a much lower bar:

Employers may not discipline or fire employees for exercising their First Amendment rights. However, there are exceptions for activity that interferes with an employee's bona fide job performance or working relationship with the employer.

If your Connecticut employee was wearing his name badge (as above), you might successfully argue that that damages the employer's working relationship. 

Make sure you consult your local employment attorney before terminating.

Be consistent

In the past year, there have been numerous political protests that involved violence and property damage--including at a federal courthouse. While it's unlikely that you would have employees involved in both sets of violent riots, if you happen to, be consistent. Both groups should be treated similarly and judged on their individual behavior.

Regardless of the decisions you make about terminating employees, consult with your employment attorney, conduct an investigation, and make a decision when you have a clear head.