Most employees already understand the bounds of free speech in the workplace. After all, the First Amendment is one of the bedrock principles of our society. So while speech in the workplace is afforded a great deal of protection, it is not absolute, and employees must realize that there are limits.
The same applies with regard to religious expression within the workplace. Indeed, employers are prohibited from preventing workers from praying or otherwise exercising their religious beliefs, but a recent case involving a firefighter using the department’s internal email system to disseminate daily religious messages led to his dismissal.
The fire chief reminded the firefighter that the email system was only for official business use (with limited exceptions for family related logistical notices) and that other methods to disseminate messages should be used, but the firefighter did not adhere to the rule. When the firefighter sued, the court explained that the messaging system was a non-public forum where an employer had more control over rules regarding speech.
As such, since the policy was not discriminatory on its face or restricted free speech, the court found no need to consider the firefighter’s argument that the policy was discriminatory as it was applied to him.
Misuse of company communication systems, especially email, can result in troubling and difficult situations for employees. Because of this, it is important to consult an experienced employment law attorney when one’s livelihood is threatened due to disputes over how email is used according to company policy.
The preceding is not legal advice.