Trouble at Work?

In recent weeks, the story of a New Jersey lawyer whose off-hours political activism was brought to the attention of her employer went viral because of the unusual way it happened: A congressman’s letter flagged her as a “ringleader” of a group in New Jersey aimed at making him more accountable and accessible to his constituents. In a fundraising letter sent to a board member of the bank for which Saily Avelenda worked, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) attached an article that quoted her, warning in a handwritten postscript that a member of one of the groups challenging him worked in his bank.

But the story also raises questions about what rights employees have when it comes to off-duty political activity, particularly in an era of rising political engagement, growing hyper-polarization and increasing use of social media platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn that easily connect workers with their employers. Though Avelenda was not disciplined or asked to resign, her boss did have her write a statement about her activities with the group, and she later decided to quit on her own, in part because of the pressure she felt from the episode

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