Free Speech Rights of Employees

Free Speech Rights of Employees - 8/06/08

Jeff: recently Wal-Mart caused a big commotion by warning its employees about the dangers of some Democratic supported labor legislation. Some employees felt that Wal-Mart was encouraging them to vote against Democrats. Can Wal-Mart take political positions like this? Here discuss the impact of politics and free speech in the workplace is attorney Michael Solomon.

Jeff: if your employer allowed to encourage you to vote for or against legislation , a party or a candidate?

Mike: Jeff, nothing Ohio law that prohibits an employer from taking political positions and encouraging their employees to vote in certain ways. However employees don't get the same protection.

Jeff: does this mean an employee can be fired for that agreement the politics of his boss?

Mike: This depends if you work for a private company or the government. Ohio is an at will state which means a private employer can terminate an employee for almost any reason other than certain reasons protected by law such as age or raced based discrimination. However nothing in Ohio law protects an employee from being fired because the employer doesn't like the employee's political views.

Some states Like New York and Tennessee have laws that prohibit an employer from fire an employee because of their political beliefs but there is no such law in Ohio.

Public employees have more protection . A public employee may have more protection for being fired for exercising their free speech.

Jeff: Mike what if the employee does all of this on their own time or starts a blog cite expressing their views about politics or the company or anything they else that they feel like discussing . Can the employer do anything about that?

Mike : Blogging and exercising you free speech away from work is becoming more of an issue for employers. Some employers are setting up blogging polices . Several years ago for example Delta airlines fired an airline flight attendant for setting up a blog about her job .

Jeff: So what should employees do to avoid being fired?

Mike : There are some situations where employers can't fire you for speaking out. We talked about one of them a few months ago under the Ohio whistle blower statute. But unless you want to rely on this law which may involve you suing your employer to protect your job, there are some practical common sense tips for avoiding being terminated when you exercise your right to free speech :

  • Check your employee manual about blogging or other forms of speech . The employee manual may tell you what the employer expects.
  • Don't imply that you are representing the company in any written or oral comments. Employers are worried about being held liable for your comments. Don't make it appear that you speak on behalf of the company.
  • Avoid commenting on your employer's activities or products. Even if you are correct and your employer makes a lousy product , you should not be surprised if you are fired for saying that in public.
  • Don't say anything you would be embarrassed to put your name on. Although blogs can be confidential, in the right situation an employer could file a subpoena to the internet service provider to find out who you are.

Jeff: Thank you. It's important for employees to realize that something as fundamental as the first amendment right to free speech does not give you a free pass if you get your boss angry at you.