Freedom Of Speech In The Workplace | The First Amendment Revisited

One question that frequently comes up during a discussion of employment law issues is whether employees have freedom of speech in
the workplace. The answer depends on whether the employer is a public or private entity, the type of speech involved, and the employee’s

No Constitutional Freedom of Speech in the Private Sector

Employees in the public sector – who work for governmental entities – have First Amendment rights in the workplace, subject to certain
restrictions. The case law that has developed over time regarding First Amendment rights in the workplace has come from the public
sector, as the government is directly affecting employees in public sector cases. Private citizens do not enjoy the same protections.
Other Freedom of Speech Issues in the Private Sector

Employees who work in the private-sector do not, as a rule, have First Amendment protection for their speech in the workplace. On one
level, a private sector employer could take the absence of a direct First Amendment right as providing free rein to discipline, terminate or
retaliate against employees for their speech in the workplace. Before doing so, however, the private sector employer should take into
account the effect of the anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII, RCW 49.60 (the Washington Laws Against Discrimination or “WLAD”),
whistle blower laws, and various local laws.

These laws provide a level of protection for certain types of expression in the workplace, and thus should be considered even if the right
of speech associated with these laws is not a “First Amendment” right per se. For example, punishing an employee because of his
religion is not technically a First Amendment violation in the private sector, but it would be a violation of the anti-discrimination laws.
Conversely, the anti-discrimination laws prohibit certain types of expression on the part of employers, such as comments that constitute
sexual or racial harassment, thereby putting a limit on “free speech” in the workplace.

The Bottom Line
Even though the First Amendment free speech criteria do not apply to private employers, determine if there is some other interest that
governs the employee’s ability to speak freely. The following are some examples:

        Is this employee’s speech being restricted or punished because the employee is expressing religious or other beliefs that are
different from the employer’s or from co-workers?

        Are employees of some religions or national origins allowed to express themselves regarding religion or national origin, but not

        Is the employee being punished for speaking a different language during lunch or breaks?

        Are the employee’s rights to share information protected by some other right, e.g. union regulations under the NLRB or PERC that
allow employees to share salary information?

Additionally, determine whether the employer has a duty to restrict the employee’s speech. For example:
        Does the employee’s speech violate the anti-harassment or anti-discrimination laws, including local ordinances?

        Are other employees using speech or expression to retaliate against an employee for exercising his or her legal rights?

        Is the employee entitled to whistleblower protection?

By addressing the above questions, you should begin to develop a sense of whether the employee’s freedom of speech has been

Primera Enmienda a la Constitución de los Estados Unidos

La Primera Enmienda (Enmienda I) a la Constitución de los Estados Unidos prohíbe la creación de cualquier ley con respecto al
establecimiento oficial de una religión, que impida la práctica libre de la misma, que reduzca la libertad de expresión, que vulnere la
libertad de prensa, que interfiera con el derecho de reunión pacífica o que prohíba el solicitar una compensación por agravios
gubernamentales (en). Fue adoptada el 15 de diciembre de 1791, como la primera de las diez enmiendas de la Carta de Derechos.

La Carta de Derechos fue propuesta originalmente como una medida para calmar a la oposición antifederalista para la ratificación de la
Constitución. Inicialmente, la Primera Enmienda solo se aplicaba a las leyes federales promulgadas por el Congreso de los Estados
Unidos, y muchas de sus disposiciones se interpretaban de manera mucho más restrictiva que hoy en día. A partir del caso Gitlow
contra Nueva York en 1925, la Corte Suprema comenzó a aplicar la Primera Enmienda a las leyes estatales; un proceso conocido como
incorporación; mediante la Decimocuarta Enmienda a la Constitución de los Estados Unidos.

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