Freedom of speech and the Workplace

Freedom of speech and the Workplace
Ask any employee about their rights to freedom of speech in the workplace, and they will tell you that they are entitled to say what they want, when they want and how they want.

According to Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Does this freedom of expression have an exception in the workplace? Consider two employees of vastly different backgrounds. Take into consideration their difference in cultures or religion. Imagine if one has a low tolerance for individuals of other nationalities. Does this give that employee the right to utilize their “freedom of speech” to make derogatory remarks regarding the other employee? Where is the line drawn?

This has become a difficult situation for Human Resources managers as they seek to maintain a culturally diverse workforce, free from harassment. With Facebook, Twitter and blogs, the freedom of speech dilemma not only occurs in the workplace, but outside the workplace as well. According to the American Society for Training and Development, over 26 million American’s have their own blogs. The electronic dilemma is further compounded by the over 100 million plus Facebook users.

Electronic media, coupled with employees relying on the “freedom of speech” argument has made navigating between upholding policy and not infringing upon employee rights a virtual mine field for organizations. Is it infringing upon an employee’s rights if you reprimand them for posting negative comments about another employee or confidential information about the company? This scenario has played out in many offices across the country.

What does this mean to you?

While blasting your co-workers may not necessarily be illegal, sharing confidential company information can lead to termination or even jail time. Posting rants or even bashing your manager on Facebook may not lead to any tangible issues, but the intangible ramifications can abound. Consider your own advancement within the organization once management discovers your "freedom of speech" inspired activities.

Is invoking your rights to freedom of speech worth the price? In the case of an irate or disgruntle worker, this can be a very difficult question to answer. Especially if it is based on a “matter of principle” rather than logic. Sharing derogatory comments about a particular unfair rule, may qualify as a point of contention, but ask – is there a better way then letting loose and exercising an emotionally charged statement under the guise of freedom of speech?

Freedom of speech, while granted under Human Rights, may not always be the best action to take depending on the situation. Its effects can be silent, yet far reaching, especially in terms of your career.

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You Should Also Read:
Dealing with Verbal Abuse in the Workplace
How to Handle a Bully at Work
Harassment in the Workplace

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