For this discussion, assume you have a job with the federal government in the Department of Health. You work in a back room and do not engage with the public, but you specifically deal with childbirth issues. You are also heavily involved in many social causes, including membership in several anti-abortion groups. After work, you often march and protest with these groups throughout Washington, DC. You wear many t-shirts to work that express your anti-abortion beliefs. There is no dress code at work, but several of the employees have complained to your boss about the clothes you wear to work. Your boss has told you that you can no longer wear your anti-abortion t-shirts to work and that you might want to rethink your after-work activities.
3/28/2017 11:04 AM EDT | 326 words
“Who is right, you or your boss?” This is more of a rhetorical question than anything. Private entities are excluded from protecting your First Amendment Rights (unless you live in Montana), as your employment is “at-will.” If your boss states that it is inappropriate attire for the office at a private firm, then your boss is right. However, this example is not a private entity. The First Amendment only applies to the federal government in the workplace. “It prohibits the federal government from making laws that infringe on the rights of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Through the Fourteenth Amendment, state and local governments are also prohibited from infringing on these rights.” (http://www.workplacefairness.org/retaliation-public-employees#3) With no dress code policy being enforced, this is clearly a direct violation of one’s First Amendment Rights. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” So, based on this extreme example (extreme because I have a hard time believing there is no dress code policy at the Department of Health) the employee is right. Furthermore, a public employee working for the federal government may even file suit in court. “The Supreme Court has ruled that public employee speech involving matters of public concern constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court first recognized that public employees could sue for retaliation in 1968. In the case Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968) the Court set out the balancing test that remains controlling law today: “the interests of the [employee] as a citizen, in commenting on matters of public concern” must be balanced against “the interest of the State as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees.” (http://www.workplacefairness.org/retaliation-public-employees#3)
3/28/2017 4:58 PM EDT | 360 words
I believe that as an employee of the federal government in the Department of Health I am right. I have trust in the first amendment that states and I quote “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” There are no dress code restrictions I so there for I have the right to express myself peacefully. And peacefully I am. I have not tried to push my beliefs on any co-workers, nor have I protested on company time.
In Law, Business, and Society, it is mentioned that freedom of speech is not absolute. This meaning that we as citizens cannot “freely make slanderous statements about others, publicly utter obscenities at will, speak ‘fighting words’ that are likely to produce a clear and present danger of violence, or yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater.” So am I breaking any of those policies? Am I making slanderous statements to my co-workers or am I speaking fighting words that present danger? No, I am not.
In Law, Business, and Society, it also states that in 2014, the United States Supreme Court clarified that “public workers act as citizens when they testify under oath; therefore, the First Amendment protects them from retaliation based on their testimony. This clarification was originally brought to the court’s attention when in 2006 they first ruled that government employees who speak out “pursuant to their official duties” are speaking as employees, not citizens, and therefore are not protected by the First Amendment. Then, realizing that they made the wrong decision, changed the law to what is stated above in 2014.
I have the right to express my opinion outside of my workplace and inside my workplace as long as restrictions, or no restrictions allow me to do so. I am not being disruptive or verbally expressing my beliefs and utmost and foremost, I am not breaking the law.