Freedom of speech allows several people to say what they want. However, in the work setting, this may not be without consequences as the employer-employee spat may lead to certain punishments which may be direct or indirect. When you are in a work environment, one of the biggest conflicts you may have within yourself is whether or not you are at liberty to tell your boss or a superior off. While freedom of speech is valid in the public sphere, work rules and policies may appear limiting, further confusing such an employee. A San Francisco employee rights attorney can help you identify some important information you should be aware of as a citizen and as an employee.

Telling Off Your Boss

Certain situations may arise where you are made uncomfortable, whether as an employee or as a person. In cases like this, the default reaction would be an outburst where you have to call out whoever the offending party and seek redress. However, in the work environment, things may not be as easy as this due to certain considerations which are given to senior staff, co-workers and other functional executives. While you may feel the need to exercise your individual rights and freedom to speak to whomever about whatever, also consider that in certain cases, many things can lead to the termination of your employment at the current job. 

While office politics is different, and work environment and culture vary, certain moves can be considered gross insubordination and end in loss of employment. In cases where the loss of employment is not chosen as the best disciplinary action, usually when an employee is on contract that prevents the termination of their employment for any other purpose rather than what the document has specified, other channels may be explored to bring such an employee under control and as part of punitive measures.

Please note that depending on the work environment, any negative comments regarding a supervisor or a senior colleague may lead to termination of appointment and employment.

The Stages of Employment

When working with a company as an employee, usually, freedom of speech increases as they rise in position and power. An individual’s freedom to utter certain statements in the work environment is largely predicated on the position occupied.

In regards to the employment stage and the punitive measures that can be adopted for issuance of negative statements; read below:

The first stage of employment is usually the probation period wherein an employee may be punished for exercising their freedom of speech in the work environment by the termination of employment. The first stage (probation period) can last several weeks, months, or even years, depending on the type of organization and hierarchy structure. After rising in position, the individual becomes one with a greater level of freedom and higher work authority. This allows such an individual to make certain statements which may have in the past earned them an immediate loss of employment, but now, he or she may only be warned off for issuing such a statement. Usually, persons high up in hierarchy like managers, executives, partners, and others are allowed certain freedoms to make statements which may or may not carry mild punishment irrespective of the weight of such words that have been said.

Constitutional Rights

When at work, it is important to note that there is no constitutional right to freedom of expression for an employee. This right, however, applies when the government is trying to infringe on a person’s freedom in any kind of way. Usually, this right to freedom of speech is relinquished by such an employee as they are bound by the rules and regulations of the work environment which are set by the employer or company. While these rights may be relinquished by an employee working for a private outfit, this right remains for those working for the government. However, even when in the employ of the government, there are certain cases where an employee may be advised to keep certain words to themselves instead of uttering everything on their minds as steeper punishment may be meted out by superiors.

In such an event that an employee feels cheated, priorly signed documents that may restrict their ability to disclose certain information should be considered.

A Non-Disclosure Agreement

A requirement for employee silence both within and outside the work environment can be presented in the form of a Non-disclosure agreement. Signing this document means that an employee has signed off their rights to offer certain information or use certain information against their employers or superiors thus limiting their freedom.

With most non-disclosure agreements, an employee is required to keep certain information confidential at all times. The information in question may be the intellectual property of the business. Failure to keep such information confidential may, however, attract serious legal consequences which may be in the form of heavy lawsuits, loss of employment, and more.

Restriction of Free Speech

When an employee is within the confines of a work environment, he or she has relinquished their right to free speech. In many cases, employees are not aware of the constitution and the finer points of these amendments that are available to each person. While the law of the land allows for free speech, these, however, come with certain limitations which have to be considered at every twist and turn to ensure that such an employee remains on the right side of the law.

Please be advised that freedom of speech, alongside other freedoms, come with limitations which are most important to pay attention to. The limits of most of the freedoms exhibited apply to the work environment and other areas where certain contracts have to be entered.

A supervisor in a work environment is at liberty to terminate a worker’s employment if he or she utters certain words that are regarded as inciting, or illegal within the company. In most cases, employment termination is seen as the best solution to employees who are in violation of certain policies and guidelines, especially those regarding peaceful conduct and positive work atmosphere.

Restrictions on what can be said in a work environment can also be further restricted in the presence of contracts which finely state the details of the conduct expected from an employee.


By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.