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Good Question: Can You Be Fired For Off-The-Job Comments?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – When the Minnesota Vikings cut outspoken punter Chris Kluwe Monday, the team said it was strictly a football decision.

But Kluwe didn’t always see eye-to-eye with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who said late last season that he was getting tired of Kluwe’s public stances, suggesting Kluwe needed to focus more on punting.

Kluwe was outspoken in favor of same-sex marriage, gaining quite a bit of media and public attention. The punter responded on Twitter, essentially mocking his boss.

Whatever the real reason the Vikings had for cutting Kluwe, every employee and employer struggles with the line between at-work conduct and off-hour behavior.

Can you be fired for what you say outside of work? Justin Cummins, a labor attorney who represents employees in court, says “yes.”

Cummins points out that Minnesota, like 48 other states, is an “at-will” employment state.

“An employer can fire an employee for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all. As long as it‘s not for an illegal reason,” Cummins said.

Those illegal reasons include things like discrimination or retaliation.

Cummins says employees are protected when they speak out about conditions in the workplace. Complaining about wages, benefits or safety issues to coworkers is protected by National Labor Relations Act.

“They’re advocating for terms and conditions of employment superior to what they have, or they’re criticizing their conditions of employment,” he said.

Cummins says the protection extends to social media as well.

“It is certainly lawful to criticize the employer in social media. The National Labor Relations Board has said so,” he said. “The key, though, is that the criticism needs to be tied to the conditions in the workplace.”

What about political conversation? What if your employer simply disagrees with your political views?

“Political speech, generally speaking, is not protected in the way that, for example, complaining about terms and conditions of employment is,” he said. “Potentially you could be fired for it.”

The reality, according to Cummins, is that employers have good reasons to not fire people for politics. It’s bad PR, and it’s “chilling” for the work environment.

His advice is simple: Be careful of what you say.

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