What You Need to Know About Freedom of Speech in the Workplace

What You Need to Know About Freedom of Speech in the Workplace
From Recruiter - November 28, 2016

Congratulations! Youve survived the most bitterly contested presidential election in recent memory. Never before have two candidates attacked each other on such a personal level.

This bruising campaign exposed just how divided our country really is. To be sure, the political discourse is far from over. So how do we handle itin the workplace?

I remember once walking through a break room at a supply chain warehouse. One of our employees was using offensive language. I asked him to stop cursing, and he replied I have freedom of speech in this country.

Well, not really. And definitely not at work.

The Law

Without going into the nuances of our FirstAmendment rights, its fair to say that there are many places where you dont enjoy freedom of speech. Work is one of those places. I checked in with my colleague, employment lawyer Sonja McGill of Bell Nunnally. She explained, Freedom of speech really isnt even a legal issue in the workplace. Unless you work for the government, you have to abide by the employers work rules. As long as they are not discriminatory or dont violate the NLRAs rules regarding unionization and concerted protected activity, you have to abide by them.

This basically means that its perfectly permissible for an employer to prohibit disruptive conduct, which often happens during political discussions. While the NLRA allows employees to distribute materials in non-work areas during non-work times, its still perfectly acceptable for employers to have work rules that prohibit cursing, political affiliations, and championing causes in work areas during work time.

Managing Civil Treatment

It really comes down to making sure that we treat each other civilly and with respect. This means that we need to find ways to listen to each other and stay professional at work.

If youre a manager, you need to find the courage to step into disruptive, negative conversations and address them. Acknowledge the employees right to have an opinion, but also remind them that work isnt the proper venue to express that opinion.

Civil Treatment at Work

Lets take it a step further. Suppose youre in the break room, and one of your peers is expressing their disappointment with the election in a very heated and agitated manner.

You have several choices:


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