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Free Speech vs. Hate Speech: When Can You Get Fired for Expressing your Opinion?

by | Oct 27, 2023 | Firm News |

In the last few weeks many employees, including high-level executives, have been terminated for sharing their own opinions, reposting memes, articles, and Xes (formerly known as Tweets), through social media or other means.  Is this a violation of First Amendment rights? Can you be fired for speech outside the workplace? Were these terminations unlawful?

The First Amendment protects the right to express opinions freely without governmental suppression. There are few exceptions to the First Amendment which include: defamation, fraud, assault, incitement of violence, and hate speech. Hate speech is the use of language to discriminate against, vilify, or promote violence or prejudice against individuals or groups based on attributes such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or disability. Hate speech can take many forms, including derogatory language, slurs, threats, harassment, and the dissemination of false and harmful information about individuals or groups.

Does the First Amendment Protect Private Employees from Termination?

The First Amendment’s protections are not absolute and are not always applicable in the context of private employment.  Private employers have the discretion to set their own rules and policies regarding speech and conduct in the workplace, on social media, and in private life.

If you express opinions or engage in speech that your employer finds objectionable, they have the right to take action against you, including termination, as long as the discipline itself does not violate federal or local anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. It’s important to understand that there are exceptions and nuances to all legal matters, and employment law varies from state to state.

If you believe you were unlawfully terminated, discriminated against, or have experienced retaliation due to speech that is considered a protected activity, or if you are an employer with questions about your company’s policies and your right to terminate an employee for hate speech, contact our expert attorneys at Thatcher Law Firm to schedule a consultation appointment. 301-850-1246

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