Free speech in the workplace: Can private-sector employees be fired for political opinions?
Posted on Feb 27, 2018 by BY TURNER PADGET LITIGATION TEAM
An increasingly divisive political climate has put the exercise of constitutional freedoms in the spotlight. While the First Amendment states, in relevant part, that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” the First Amendment’s restrictions do not apply to private-sector employers. In other words, an employee’s freedom of speech and expression can have limits and repercussions in the private-sector workplace.
The polarizing political discourse has been on display along NFL sidelines since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. Hundreds of NFL players and other professional athletes have joined the protests, and others have followed in solidarity.
At the beginning of the NFL season, President Donald Trump urged league owners to fire players whom he said showed a “total disrespect for everything we stand for.” But is it legal for an employer to fire employees for expressing their political opinions?
South Carolina is an “employment at-will” state, which means that either an employer or an employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, if such termination is not in violation of state or federal law. Private sector employers always will have a certain degree of control over employees’ speech. For instance, it is appropriate for a company to prohibit employees from discussing trade secrets or revealing confidential information. Employers also can prohibit harassing speech or conduct in the workplace.continue reading