Freedom of expression of political views is a given right to all Americans. Juli Briskman was on a routine bike ride in Northern Virginia when she saw President Donald Trump’s motorcade driving by. In her moment of frustration and anger, she flipped off his motorcade. She thought nothing of it until she saw a picture of her in this moment on Facebook, and identified herself as the biker. Her employers at Akima LLC, a holding company that supports the portfolios of federal and commercial service providers, ultimately unjustly fired her for exercising her right to express her own personal political views.
Employees represent the company which they work for at all times, just as we, Fairfield students, always represent Fairfield University while we are studying here. The things we do away from school grounds, at the beach, still reflect upon Fairfield. There is a difference between behavior that reflects badly upon your employer or your university and behavior that is simply letting your personal political beliefs be known. The Huffington Post reports that Akima LLC told Briskman that she was being terminated because she could not have “lewd” or “obscene” things on her social media. What makes this expression obscene? Bikers do this same thing everyday, but due to the fact that Akima LLC is a government contractor, they overreacted, most likely out of fear or Trump’s reaction, and unjustly decided to terminate Briskman.
It’s interesting to think about the fact that a government company fired an employee for this display of political views. Would they have done so if they weren’t government-affiliated? I don’t believe so. It’s a possibility that U.S. government officials contacted the company when this happened, telling them that they had no other choice but to fire Briskman. In the current state of our government, this seems likely to me. If not, Briskman’s termination still leads me to wonder, is the government trying to control our social media content, what we do outside the workplace, and even more than just our freedom of speech?
In fact, Briskman is a symbol of political protest, a symbol for women activists and protesters and a representation of the frustration that so many Americans feel regarding the current state of our nation. Yes, she is anti-Trump, but a big part of the nation is as well. This is not a revolutionary idea or view. Briskman was simply showing how she felt, on her own time, while recreationally riding her bike. A company is in the right to fire an employee for being obscene online, but Briskman was not acting in an obscene way, but simply politically protesting outside the workplace.
Being terminated from Akima LLC made Briskman realize that she wants to work for an advocacy group that she believes in, which President Trump is cutting funding for, specifically Planned Parenthood or PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Getting fired has not made her regret her actions. As reported by the Huffington Post, she is in fact happy to be an example of protest that many Americans can agree with.
Akima LLC’s actions are concerning. If Briskman’s political expression during her life outside of work is grounds for termination, this raises questions like, what else can’t employees do outside of the workplace? Can Americans not express their personal political opinions without risking their jobs and their livelihood? Employees have their own lives outside of work, so to what extent can their employer control what they do outside the office?