Can an employer tell employees they are not allowed to speak to fellow employees outside of work?

Get Legal Help Today

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption

Can an employer tell employees they are not allowed to speak to fellow employees outside of work?

As a counselor I changed my mind about filing neglect on a mom, per request of a high school. My employer gave me warning on Friday but suspended me on Monday. I am not allowed to speak to anyone or get my things which seems to violate my constitutional rights, I should think. Can they refuse to allow me to clean out my office? What can they do to me if I continue my friendships outside or come with a police escort to gather my things?

Asked on November 8, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

As long as your are employed by them, they can require you to not speak about this issue or to speak to fellow employees outside work; if you violate that requirement, they can terminate you. They cannot arrest you for doing this, but you would be insubordinate and violating employer directives, which provide cause for termination.

As long as you are employed by them, they can bar you from retrieving your belongings; if you quit, you'd have the same opportunity to retrieve them (or have them shipped to you) as any other employee who quits.

(In the context of above, remember: suspension is not termination. You are still an employee.)

You do not indicate whether you yourself are employed by a school or other government agency. If you are not, then be aware that the 1st amendment does not apply to you at all--freedom of speech is only a right against the government.

If you are employed by a public school or other government entity, the issue is more complex. While the 1st amendment does provide rights to you, those rights are not absolute. Your employer can still almost certainly require you to not speak about matters involving a potential charge of neglect or your decision to not file one at the behest of a high school--the interest in free speech can be overcome by other potent interests, such as the privary rights of the student and family involved, the integrity of the process for dealing with potential neglect, etc.--especially when dealing with non-political speech. That is why it is most likely the case that even a school could limit your speech the way you describe.

The exception might be if you believe they are violating the law in some way and that you need to speak up as a whistleblower. If you do, you may then have rights in the event you are retaliated against--but before doing anything like that, consult in person with an employment law attorney before acting.

Finally--it would be a good idea for you to not speak about these matters anyway, or at least be *very* careful about what you say. Any factual assertions you make which are not 100% true and which are negative against a person or entity could potentially result in a cause of action for defamation against you.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

Get Legal Help Today

Find the right lawyer for your legal issue.

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption