After Guardian journalist Owen Jones posted a video of his interview with Wetherspoons CEO Tim Martin, he reported receiving messages from Wetherspoons staff who had been threatened with disciplinary action if they did not cooperate in Mr Martin's pro-Brexit campaign (a sample are posted here). As yet, Wetherspoons has not commented on the allegations. But the reports highlight the issues that can arise when a business takes a political stance on a controversial issue. Can staff be required to participate in what is effectively a political campaign?
I think the answer in this case is no. Although employees are generally obliged to obey the reasonable and lawful instructions of their managers, promoting a no-deal Brexit is so far from the day-to-day duties of bar staff that I don't think this would be deemed to be a reasonable instruction if the matter ended up in an Employment Tribunal. If an employee was fired for refusing to cooperate, I think he or she would potentially have a strong claim for unfair dismissal. There is even the possibility of a discrimination claim if the employee was effectively fired or disciplined for having a strong belief in the principles of European cooperation and freedom of movement. Although it might seem like a stretch to call this a religious or philosophical belief, caselaw has shown that this is a broad category and many quasi-political beliefs have been protected.
Businesses tempted to get involved in politics, particularly in these polarising times, should bear these risks in mind - it might be better to stick to cold pints and steer clear of legal hot water.