Can I get suspended without pay because I told a co-worker they were being investigated?

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Can I get suspended without pay because I told a co-worker they were being investigated?

I work in EMS and I’m a full-time paramedic. At work today, there was an open discussion at lunch about how a coworker is being investigated. Since this coworker is my friend, I warned him that he is being investigated. The Executive Director found out that I told him, and he suspended me without pay indefinitely because it was “poor judgement.” There is no policy at work saying I cannot tell a co-worker this. Don’t I have freedom of speech rights?

Asked on August 9, 2010 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

First, if you are working for a private employer (not the government), there is NO freedom of speech rights. The first amendment only applies against the government, and a private employer may restrict speech in any way it likes.

Even if you worked for the government, free speech is not absolute; a whole host of restrictions are recognized on it. For example, "freedom of speech" does not allow someone to give out confidential information, be insurbordinate, or interfere with legitimate business operations. By warning a coworker of an investigation when it was not your place to, you could be seen as interefering with business operations. It is likely that this sort of speech--which impacts operations and which is not political or expressive (the types of speech most protected)--would not be protected even at a government job.


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