You started a business. You worked hard to get here. And now that you made it this far, you’re taking all precautions to ensure your business stays in tip top shape. With this in mind, you want the business to stay out of trouble. Something to keep in mind is free speech. Free speech is a major component of the workplace all entrepreneurs should not take lightly. Then again, there are times when it crosses the line into slander. It’s your job as a business owner to know the difference!
First Things First
It’s vital to know that you have freedom of speech in the workplace, both as an employer and employee. Your freedoms are not curtailed whether you’re a public or private entity, nor your position in the company. But this doesn’t mean you are immune to the consequences of your words or actions.
If you’re in the public sector, as in, you work for the government, you have first amendment rights in the workplace, subject to certain restrictions. If you insult a client and are fired, you will likely have no case in a wrongful termination lawsuit. Again, the freedom of speech excuse you from being a bad employee.
However, you do have rights. An employer cannot discipline or terminate you for voicing your beliefs. It’s important to take into account effects of anti-discrimination laws as well as local laws to make sure you’re still not crossing any lines.
Anti-discrimination laws provide a level of protection for certain “free speech” expressions in the workplace. They should be considered even if the right of speech associated with these laws aren’t exactly a person’s first amendment right. For instance, you can’t punish an employee because of his religion not because of his first amendment right, but under anti-discrimination laws. If you do, you’re in big trouble! Conversely, these same laws prohibit certain types of expression on the part of employers. You’re falling down a slope of slander.
So, what exactly constitutes slander?
Slander is categorized by the guide to defamation as a “false and unprivileged publication, orally uttered, and also communicated by other means.” It’s found incredibly often in the work place, especially in cases during pre-termination of an employee. Libel, on the other hand, typically has to do with visual evidence rather than oral representation of discrimination. Statements that tend to injure an employee’s reputation are slanderous. As well, stating something with reference to the employee’s office or business to lessen its profits.
If an employee’s speech is being restricted or punished because they’re expressing religious or other beliefs that are different from yours, that’s slander. Not only religion, but if elements like a person’s language, nation origin, racial background and the like are being spoken about in a derogatory way, you’ll be looking at a slander lawsuit. You never know when something like this can come up. After all, you can’t have eyes on all employees in the company. Having a solid general liability insurance will help you in the case your business is taken to court for slander. Be up front with your employees upon hiring that you’re an anti-discriminatory company and make it part of their training.
Alright, business owner. Now that you know what constitutes as slander in the workplace, you’ll take all precautions to make sure it doesn’t happen at yours! Remind your employees that you have no tolerance for discrimination in the workplace. Although they don’t necessarily have first amendment rights at work, everyone has to follow anti-discrimination laws.