1st Amendment Rights of Public EmployeesNational Police Training
October 26, 2012 — 1,344 views
1st Amendment Rights of Public Employees
The 1st Amendment of the United States of America's Constitution is perhaps the most important amendment ever made. It is certainly the most famous, pertaining to the right to exercising one's religion, the rights of the press, the right to peaceful assembly, and perhaps most pressingly the right for free speech. But just how does the 1st Amendment affect our place of work and what can or cannot we do underneath it?
The first thing you need to know about the 1st Amendment is that though it does hold ground in the public sector of work, it does not in the private sector. However, there are laws that compensate for this lack, such as anti-discrimination laws. Just keep in mind that anything from here on will refer to workers in the public sector, and not those in the private sector.
Having said that, when it comes to laws and legal practices the 1st Amendment forbids the government, aka the public employee's employer, from institution laws that impeach on free speech, it does not give someone the right to say whatever they wish. Even in cases where someone might expect the 1st Amendment to take effect, its reach has been limited by decisions made by the courts. This was a logical outcome, since as employers the government does not want their employees to have complete freedom over what they say. They also do not want to be unable to fire them due to them being able to claim their rights are being impeded.
Public employees may say anything they want as private citizens so long as it is of a public concern, while they cannot say anything they want as employees for private concerns. For instance, one cannot be fired or punished for speaking up about safety issues, but one can for complaining about your own pay rate. This can be a tricky system to navigate, as it can be hard to determine what a public or private concern is. In general, if you are commenting about working conditions, something regarding safety or policy and so forth, you are protected. You are not protected when you make personal attacks, complaints and so forth.
The 1st Amendment can be complicated when it comes to workers in the public sector. However, if you are careful, it can ensure your employment is protected when you need to bring up real issues in the workplace.