Recent events in Paris has brought the much debated topic of ‘Freedom of Speech‘ to the forefront of everyone’s mind; however, do employees really have freedom of speech in the workplace?
In reality, in the working environment there are many constraints for both employers and employees alike. Whilst heated debates take place over the dinner table in hundreds of households across the country, expressing strong views on religion, sex or politics at work can lead to disciplinary action, claims of discrimination and harassment and ultimately both the employee and employer may find themselves in front of an employment tribunal.
Whist some employees may claim that their views are a ‘belief’ protected under the Equality Act 2010, expressing these freely may cause offence to other employees with different sets of beliefs.
Additionally, use of email to express opinions is no longer excused by claims of the fact that this can be easily deleted or should not be monitored as it is personal. The Telecommunications (Lawful Business Practice) Regulations 2000 outlines that employers may monitor its staff’s correspondence for a wide range of reasons as long as this is outlined in a clear policy and many employees have found themselves the subject of an investigation as a result.
Furthermore, freely expressing opinions on social network sites has been a hot topic at tribunals in recent years. In the case of Crisp v Apple Retail an employee took his freedom of speech too far when he made derogatory comments about his employer and company products on a social network site. The Tribunal found that there was a likelihood that this could damage the employer’s reputation and as the employee had been given specific social media training the dismissal was found to be fair.
Other pitfalls to watch out for are freely stating to a Line Manager a view on a task or piece of work delegated. This may result in an allegation of insubordination and could be treated as misconduct or even more significantly gross misconduct. Managers also need to be mindful of their views. Whilst an MD may not agree with trade union membership, for example, to express this view to a trade union member may result in them finding themselves in trouble.
There is one piece of legislation that offers some protection to freedom of speech which is often known as the Whistleblowing Policy, otherwise known as the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA.) Under this Act an employee can report a criminal offence, a breach of health and safety, the company undertaking illegal practices, environmental damage and make disclosures that are in the public interest with no reprisal as long as it is not malicious.
For assistance on this matter or any employee related issue contact Anita Wynne at Beststart HR on firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 01438 747 747