WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Some of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol were fired from their jobs last week after internet sleuths publicized their identities. Now those terminated workers are wondering why they have very little recourse.
The District of Columbia police department released photos of people involved in last Wednesday’s melee and potential charges against them. Some 68 people were arrested after angry protesters stormed the building, breaking windows, damaging fixtures, and stealing furnishings.
The FBI also asked the public to help it identify rioters, a call that drew ribbing on social media in light of the prolific coverage of the event. This included selfies posted by participants and videos of President Donald Trump’s supporters at area hotels before the attack.
While some protesters say they were exercising their rights to freedom of speech, Civil Rights Attorney Charles Coleman Jr., says most workers in the U.S. are at-will employees. This means they can be fired, for whatever reason, as long as it has nothing to do with being a member of a federally protected class.
Coleman says some companies may have social morality clauses in their employee handbook, which may provide some guidance. However, people need to be mindful of what may come from being at a protest.
“There does not have to be illegal activity for an employer to decide to dismiss you for your out of work extracurricular involvements,” Coleman said. “The association is what is the problem. You’re not the one whos the decision nmaker, you could be subject to go, and that’s really what it boils down to.”
Coleman also says there’s been talk about the first amendment shielding people from being fired over protesting. He stresses that is not the case and the right to “freedom of speech” has some boundaries.
So, what if someone is fired for protesting, whether at the U.S. capitol or any other time? Coleman says the best option is to ask an employer for forgiveness.
Terminated employees might have legal recourse if they can prove co-workers have participated in similar activities and were not disciplined. Civil servants and union workers may also have some protections.
Some individuals who had previously been photographed at Trump rallies and supporters of the QAnon conspiracy-theory movement were quickly identified. Online detectives focused their efforts on others.
“Let’s name and shame them!,” read one Twitter thread devoted to outing participants.
One of the people shown in the D.C. police photos wore his work identification badge inside the capitol and was identified and fired by his employer, Navistar Direct Marketing of Fredrick, Maryland.
“While we support all employees’ right to a peaceful, lawful exercise of free speech, any employee demonstrating dangerous conduct that endangers the health and safety of others will no longer have an employment opportunity with Navistar Direct Marketing,” the company said in a statement, without naming the man.
Libby Andrews, a real estate agent from Chicago, was fired by @properties and removed from its website, even though she had done nothing wrong and had not entered the Capitol, she said in an interview.
“I’m a 56-year-old woman, petite. I was not there causing trouble. I was there to support my president,” said Andrews.
Andrews said she had climbed the steps of the Capitol without encountering security, posted selfies from the scene on Instagram, sang the national anthem, and then moved on. Online critics were quick to post negative reviews of her real estate work on a ratings site.
A spokeswoman for @properties said the firm condemned those who ascended the capitol steps for attempting “to threaten the country’s democratic process.”
Andrews’ actions and social media comments “were not consistent with our standards of conduct, and as a result the company made the decision to end its affiliation with her,” the spokeswoman said.
Rick Saccone, an adjunct professor at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, resigned after the college reviewed a video he posted on Facebook from the scene. “As a result of that investigation, Dr. Saccone has submitted and we have accepted his letter of resignation, effective immediately,” the college said in a statement.
Saccone, reached by phone, confirmed his resignation and said he did not see acts of violence and never crossed the threshold of the capitol. Saccone said he deleted the video, which could not be viewed on Thursday.
Paul Davis, a lawyer at Westlake, Texas-based Goosehead Insurance, used a social media account to broadcast his participation at the capitol, saying that he had been teargassed.
A Goosehead spokesperson confirmed Davis had been fired.
Reuters contributed to this report.