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Strictly speaking, there’s no ‘freedom of speech’ in the private workplace

by on
in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

It’s a free country, right? Em­­ployees can express themselves however they want at work. Wrong. The right to free speech on the job only applies to public employees, and even then there are significant limitations.

Recent case: Ronnie Moore sued his former employer after he was fired for looking at photos of a nude co-worker while at work. He sued, alleging that his termination violated his right to free speech.

The court quickly shut down the case, explaining that free speech is only free for government employees. (Moore v. University Hospitals, No. 1:11-CV-508, SD OH, 2011)

Final note: Looking at photos of nudes isn’t free speech for government workers, either. Their exercise of free speech has to involve comments on matters of public importance, not the right to view nudity for nudity’s sake.

It may be that employees mistake all the talk about being able to criticize their employers in social media or among themselves for free speech.

Discussing workplace conditions is a right available through the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Em­­ployers can’t punish employees for discussing workplace conditions be­­cause that would interfere with their right to take collective action to better their working conditions.

About the only circumstance in which viewing pictures of nude co-workers could be protected under the NLRA would be if Moore worked for a strip club and he were discussing unfair conditions under which his co-worker had to perform in the nude.

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