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Freedom Of Speech In The Workplace?

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2017 | Employment Law

The Constitutional right of freedom of speech keeps the government from prohibiting certain speech.  For example, you have the right in a public place to espouse your political views.  People have the right to peacefully protest or show support to the government in public. However there is no obligation on a private employer to allow political speech in the workplace.  Employers do have an obligation under the New Hampshire Whistleblower’s Statute and under the National Labor Relations Act to permit certain speech related to work, but political speech in the workplace is not protected. Generally employers will allow employees, so long as they are performing their job, to express some political opinions amongst themselves, yet it may be imprudent for employees to get into a political debate in that it may make both employees think less of the other because they do not share the same political opinions and could also cause difficulty in working with each other in the future.

New Hampshire is an employment-at-will state which means that absent certain statutory rights, employees can generally be fired or quit with or without cause and with or without notice.  If two employees have a heated political discussion resulting in them having difficulty working with each other, it is possible that the boss, depending on how valuable the employees are may decide it is not worth keeping one or both of them.  Of course firing the employees may negatively affect the morale of the remaining employees. Furthermore if the fired employees feel they were treated unfairly, even if they do not have a good legal claim they may still bring one which wastes the employer’s time and money to defend.  Therefore the employers should always consider not only what they legally can do, but what they should do.

Bosses should also consider the unequal power between them and their subordinates in having a political debate in that it is really unfair to be able to espouse your views to your subordinate and have your subordinate feel restricted in sharing his views with you because of the fear of reprisal or the boss thinking less of him. Consider polite evasive comments when asked about topics like the refuge policy. For example: “As the saying goes, may you live in interesting times. These are certainly interesting times”.  Hopefully the other side socially adept enough to get the clue and changes the subject.

Some people feel that everyone should know their opinion about politics, yet getting worked up and debating your political views at work with co-workers could adversely affect your career. Keeping your job and advancing your career is more important to your family than you sharing your political views at work and compromising their financial security.

J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].