Q. One of our workers often wears T-shirts with slogans that have a strong political bent to them. Some employees have complained. Is it a violation of employees’ free speech rights to ban such clothing? — Liz, New York
A. When it comes to the issue of freedom of expression on the job, the courts tend to look at each incident on a case-by-case basis. Freedom of expression is not always a protected activity.
In general, the courts consider whether an employer has a valid business justification for banning T-shirts, buttons, emblems, etc. Some accepted justifications for banning insignia include promoting safety, preventing alienation of customers, preventing adverse effects on customers/patients, and preventing dissension and conflict. Also, if messages are denigrating, confrontational or disparaging, an employer can enforce a ban.