The term “Freedom of Speech” is used a lot, but not many people know what the true definition is. While freedom of speech in the workplace does allow you to freely express your ideas and opinions, there is some limitation on what it protects. Knowing what constitutes a First Amendment right is very important in determining whether or not your case is considered a wrongful termination. A First Amendment violation is just one type of wrongful termination and your case may still qualify as a wrongful termination under different laws. If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated, reach out to a wrongful termination attorney for more information.
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is the principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to express their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or sanction. Any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used, is also protected under this principle. Freedom of speech was established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, giving people the right to speak out freely without worrying about government interference.
Limitations on Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Speech is not an all-encompassing right and it does have limitations which include; libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreement, the right to privacy, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury. While these are all considered limitations, they are not all absolute and some instances of them can still be protected as a First Amendment right. Seeking counsel on your particular situation is advised when trying to determine if your firing was a violation of freedom of speech in the workplace, because the answer is not always cut and dry.
Less protection is offered for uninhibited speech when the government acts as subsidizer, speaker, is an employer, controls education, or regulates the mail, airwaves, legal bar, military, prisons, and immigration. In many cases, the government is not allowed to act on things that are said outside of work, but they are sometimes allowed to terminate you for things said at work.
In some cases, making false statements of facts is not protected under Freedom of Speech. One such instance is knowingly making a false statement of fact, such as libel and slander, and it can be subject to civil or criminal liability. Negligently false statements of facts can also lead to civil liability. It’s important to note that being employed by the government can affect some of these restrictions. If you have any questions, reach out to a wrongful termination attorney for more information.
Freedom of Speech in the Workplace
When discussing Freedom of Speech in the workplace, there are several factors that must be considered. These include whether or not the employer is a public or private entity, the type of speech involved, and the employee’s position. If you work for a government entity, your First Amendment right to freedom of speech is upheld with certain restrictions. If you work in the private sector, you generally don’t have First Amendment protection for your speech in the workplace. This is because your employer is allowed to terminate you “at-will”, meaning they don’t have to provide justification or cause. Termination without cause is legal if it does not violate an employment contract and if it doesn’t break any wrongful termination laws.
Even though your termination may not be a First Amendment violation, it could still violate anti-discrimination laws, whistleblower laws, and various local laws that have been established to protect employees. This is where things can get confusing and you should seek the counsel of a Wrongful Termination Attorney. For example, if you have been terminated or punished for speaking about your religion, this is technically not a First Amendment violation in the private sector. However, it is a violation of the anti-discrimination laws which makes the termination illegal.
Speech in the workplace can also be limited because of anti-discrimination laws. They prohibit certain types of expression on the part of the employers which includes things like comments that constitute sexual or racial harassment. This can also apply to employees harassing other employees. While these comments are technically protected under the freedom of speech right, they do violate anti-discrimination laws and therefore are legal grounds for termination.
You cannot be legally terminated for reporting an illegal action or wrongdoing on your employer’s part, this is protected under the whistleblower laws. Every case is unique, but if you believe your case may have been a First Amendment violation, then reach out to a Wrongful Termination Attorney for more information.
Examples of Legal Terminations
If you make a comment to a fellow employee that is considered harassment or discrimination, then your termination was legal.
If you made comments about the cleanliness and appearance of your workplace in the private sector and were fired as a result because your employer didn’t appreciate your feedback, then your termination was legal.
If you have shared trade secrets about your company with another company, and in doing so violated a non-compete, your termination is legal.
Examples of Illegal Termination
If you shared information about your company with another company, that is not considered a trade secret and is not outlined as a violation of your employment contract, and you were fired as a result, then your termination was wrongful.
If you make a joke that is poorly received but is not considered harassment or discrimination, then your termination is wrongful and you have grounds to seek legal counsel.
If you reported your employer for failing to abide by health codes and were as a result fired, then your termination was wrongful. If you believe your case constitutes a wrongful termination, then take charge and reach out to a wrongful termination attorney to seek compensation. You can also reach out to them if you have questions about whether your firing was legal or not. Freedom of speech can be a complicated right to understand due to its limitations, but if you believe you were wrongfully terminated for expressing your right to freedom of speech in the workplace, don’t hesitate to hire an attorney.