These days, people across the country have a renewed passion and have started voicing their opinions on different issues ranging from political to social aspects prevailing in the nation. From joining online campaigns to participating in local protests, more and more individuals are using their right to freedom of speech to make their voices heard.
However, what happens if you plan to exercise your freedom of speech against your boss while at work? Can employers exercise their control over the employees when they express their opinions?
Even if you have the constitutional right to freedom of speech, these rights do not extend to your workplace. If you’re not happy with them, you might get fired if you look at your boss and say, “Get lost”. However, in certain circumstances, you can voice out your views on certain aspects even if it might cause harm to your colleagues or even your boss. Also, raising your voice and complaining on social media is often considered protected speech.
So what are the workplace talking laws, and when can your boss limit your freedom of speech? Keep scrolling to find out more.
What Does The First Amendment Offer To Employees?
The First Amendment does not apply to workers employed by private corporations. The First Amendment only applies to the government and state actors.
Employees do not have the guaranteed right to freely express their opinions or views while at work under the Constitution’s First Amendment. From political opinions to cultural views, it is advisable not to speak about it unless you are ready to face the consequences. You may face disciplinary action by your boss for that very reason.
However, these restrictions are limited to a set of rules, and there are exceptions to it, which include:
· If you happen to work for the government.
· If the employer’s actions discriminate against a certain group of individuals.
· If you’re engaged in protected speech or concerted activities.
Employee Rights To Free Speech At Work
Even if you are not covered by the constitutional rights to freedom of speech while at the workplace, in certain circumstances, your employers must adhere to the state and federal laws that protect employees’ speech. However, certain laws restrict your speech and prohibit employers from speaking out about all sorts of things while at the workplace. These laws control talking about:
1. Confidential medical details.
2. Employee’s financial information.
3. Details about sexual harassment and discrimination.
4. Trade secrets.
5. Insider trading information.
Meanwhile, whistleblowing is part of protected speech. When you blow the whistle, you are shedding light on some type of illegal workplace practice or safety issue. This is protected.
Private Sector Companies
Though the First Amendment offers the US citizens protection against free speech by the federal government, this does not apply to employees of the private sector.
So, can employers take disciplinary action against those who voice out their opinions or raise concerns? Absolutely, as long as the employer does not show any discrimination and is consistent towards all those working at the company.
Whether the free speech was offensive or related to political views, if it was made during the working hours, the individual is liable to face disciplinary actions from their superiors.
If you happen to be employed in a private sector company, you must abide by the rules set by the employer. In such cases, the Constitution’s First Amendment does not offer any protection for free speech. However, employers are still not allowed to discipline their employees in the following cases:
1. Taking part in activities related to employment terms and conditions.
2. Opposing discrimination.
3. Getting involved in protected opposition against harassment.
Public Sector Services
Public sector employees do have certain protections under the first amendment. Individuals working for the government can enjoy the first amendment rights to freedom of speech, but only to a certain limit.
Numerous opinions by the Supreme Court have also stated that public employees can exercise limited right to free speech while at their workplace. However, employers can discipline those who raise their voices and adversely affect the employer’s proper functioning, morale, and integrity.
While exercising their right to free speech, the public employee must make sure to arrive at a balance between the interest of the state and the interest of a citizen while expressing views about public matters. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary actions from the public employers without offending the Constitution‘s first amendment. This is applicable mostly in cases where the speech is obscene or discriminatory.
Right to Free Speech Under NLRA
Just because freedom of speech is not applicable in the workplace, it does not mean everything is lost. Business organizations can’t fully curb all sorts of free speech for their employees. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), those working in the private sector have the ability to take part in protected activities.
Whether these activities take place in union workplaces or not, NLRA aims to safeguard the rights of each working individual to discuss the terms and conditions of their job profile freely. These concerted activities ensure that employees are provided with mutual protection and aid.
For instance, under this act, employees can freely discuss wages with their colleagues and figure out if they’re paid enough or not. Furthermore, they can proceed to seek an increase in pay from their boss. That is, under NLRA, employees can raise concerns related to the following matters:
· Benefits and compensation.
· Fair wages.
· Working conditions.
Here, employers are not allowed to set rules that inhibit free speech except under certain circumstances. This encourages employees to raise their voices against the issues they face at their workplace.
Though freedom of speech is not protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, in case of any unlawful workplace misconduct, employees have the freedom to voice out such concerns and seek justice.
However, employees who violate the rights to free speech may face disciplinary actions. But, employers should maintain consistency and avoid discrimination while carrying out disciplinary actions.
The best way to handle this is to inform employees in advance by providing well-drafted policies. This will help reduce the number of cases related to polarized speech at the workplace.
If you’re in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh and want a further legal opinion on your right to free speech, give us a call.