If workers’ ‘free speech’ threatens others, you can ban it — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

If workers’ ‘free speech’ threatens others, you can ban it

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Workplace Communication,Workplace Conflict

Issue: Employees wrongly believe the First Amendment protects their comments at work.

Risk: You don't need to put up with employees who claim their harassment or bias is just "free speech."

Action: Lower the boom on obnoxious or illegal behavior that employees tie to First Amendment rights.

The next time an employee argues that he has a First Amendment right to say whatever he wants at work, wear a T-shirt with a controversial message or display a sexually suggestive photo inside his locker, tell him that his free-speech rights stopped the minute he walked into the workplace.

In fact, First Amendment free-speech protections do not apply in the private workplace. Your responsibility to maintain a harassment-free workplace comes first.

Recent case: A mechanic who worked on company delivery trucks belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Following a heated political debate, he pasted several Confederate flag stickers on his toolbox.

When a black employee complained, the company asked the mechanic to remove the stickers, even offering to buy him a new toolbox. He refused and was fired for violating the company's anti-harassment policy. He sued, citing his First Amendment free-speech rights.

The trial court dismissed the case, and a federal appeals court agreed. Employers have a right to minimize workplace conflict and avoid liability under federal anti-discrimination laws, and that can mean "preserving a harmonious and efficient work environment," the court said. (Dixon v. Coburg Dairy Inc., No. 02-1266, 4th Cir., 2003)

Leave a Comment