Why Can’t I Wear Political Attire at Work?

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I am a Democrat in a very red state. I work at a small service business where I interact with customers in person. Several of my co-workers wear bright red “Make America Great Again” caps. So, I bought a Joe Biden T-shirt to express my views. Recently, though, my boss, the owner of the company, issued a rule that “customer-facing employees” are not allowed to wear political garb. I can’t wear my shirt, but the accounting guys in the back office can still wear their MAGA hats. I don’t think this is fair. Do you? What about my First Amendment rights?


A little anecdote: Last week, I interviewed two plumbers for a small job at my house. They both seemed competent, had good references and their estimates were comparable. But one of them had a bumper sticker that rubbed me the wrong way. So, I hired the other guy.

I sympathize, in part, with the owner of your company. She or he probably wants to avoid alienating customers with political gear that’s irrelevant to the services you provide. But you’re right, too: Applying this rule only to certain employees is unfair. The company should prohibit political speech across the board or not at all.

Before you go roaring into your boss’s office, though, make sure you’ve considered the power differential between you. Will you be risking your good standing at the company (or maybe your job itself) by complaining? Workers at small private companies typically have few legal protections.

If you decide to speak up, be polite: “I respect your right to ban campaign gear at work. But the rule should apply to everyone. Otherwise, you’re giving special rights to some employees, but not to others. I hope you’ll consider my request.”

And a parting note on the First Amendment, which is frequently misunderstood: Generally, it prevents the state from restricting freedom of speech, religion and peaceful assembly. It doesn’t apply to small private companies like yours.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

My husband and I live in New York but decamped to the suburbs to stay with my mother-in-law for the summer and fall. It’s been a godsend. (We were cooped up and driving each other crazy in our apartment.) But it came to a dramatic halt when my mother-in-law’s neighbor invited us over. My husband and I assumed it would be a small outdoor gathering. But the neighbor had invited 70 people! When we saw the crowd, mostly without masks, we refused to go in and told my mother-in-law we thought it was unsafe. She went anyway. We returned to the city the next day and told her that we wouldn’t come back for two weeks, pending the assurance that she would behave safely while we’re gone. She agreed. But what if she doesn’t?


For a couple of long-term moochers, you certainly are free with your demands. I’m glad you didn’t go to the party, of course; it sounded unsafe. If your mother-in-law is like mine, though, she may have felt guilty not going after saying she would. (It doesn’t make sense to me, either!) Or maybe she’s reckless.

Going forward, stop making assumptions. Have a respectful discussion with your mother-in-law about the safety precautions to which she will commit, including at social events. If they’re acceptable to you and your husband, go back. If not, settle in for a cooped-up winter in the city.

I was running late for a dental appointment. I was going to bike there, which would have made me even later. But my roommate offered to give me a ride. (I didn’t ask.) On the way there, she got a speeding ticket. And that night, she presented it to me as if it were my responsibility to pay. I think that’s absurd! I didn’t speed. Thoughts?


It’s true that the choice to speed was your roommate’s. And as a general matter, the person behind the wheel is responsible for driving mishaps.

But surely you also see that, were it not for you and your dental appointment, your roommate would not have been driving the car that fateful day. This argues (to me) for picking up the ticket as a gesture of thanks or making your roommate a counteroffer to split the fine. Does that sound less absurd to you?

My nephew planned to be married in a big ceremony in October. For safety reasons, the couple decided to wed privately on the scheduled date and postpone the big celebration until October 2021. So, when do we give our gift: now or at the party next year?


These are tough times for people missing their big day. Still, I commend the bridal couple for putting the safety of their guests first. I would send a token gift now with a warm note letting them know you’re thinking of them, and bring your real gift to the party. Or reverse the gift order, if you like, but send the note now. I bet they’re really disappointed.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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