Freedom of speech? Sure, but not necessarily at work

Virginia

Southeast / Virginia 17 Views

Last week I wrote about Roseanne Barr getting fired by ABC for a racist comment and explored how a similar situation might be handled in a real world workplace.

I wasn’t surprised when I heard some people respond by grumbling “So much for our First Amendment rights.” So I thought I would dispel a couple of misconceptions about our right to free speech and how it applies (or doesn’t) in the workplace.

The First Amendment only means the government can’t silence you or attempt to curtail speech (i.e. you won’t be intimidated or jailed for your speech.)

Your private employer on the other hand, can curtail your speech and punish or fire you if they decide your opinions are racist or sexist or violate some core company value.

The consequences also apply outside of work in the general culture. As Jack Holmes says in Esquire: "Free speech" does not mean you get to say anything without any repercussions in society. The government cannot impose penalties on you, but your peers can by maintaining social norms that make it socially unacceptable — shameful, even — to behave in that way. You can't lose your liberty, but you can lose your friends and your livelihood. The Constitution doesn't protect your popularity.”

So, can I get in trouble at work for a post on social media?

Yes, if what you post is racist or sexist or inconsistent with the company’s values, you should expect to be at least disciplined. Especially if you identify your place of work in your profile (or have a LinkedIn account with the same name) because it would imply that your views represent the company.

Can I share my political opinions and keep my job?

Not if your opinions are objectionable (like white supremacy) and you work for a private employer. This issue also came up during protests in Charlottesville, Va., when a man who reportedly attended the white nationalist march and was recognized in the news lost his job at an eatery chain in California.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, expression, assembly and the right to petition and prohibits the government from interfering in the free exercise of those. But you're on your own dealing with the fallout with family, neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens.

So let us be thoughtful and considerate of the opinions we espouse, because with our great rights and freedoms, come great responsibilities.

Eva Del Rio is creator of HR Box – tools for small businesses and startups. Send questions to Eva@evadelrio.com

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