Employees are protected from termination in retaliation of speech protected under the First Amendment. Particularly in the case of government employees working for elected officials, this is can be a complex issue. Add to this the issue of free speech online and on social media sites, and which conduct is protected under the First Amendment becomes a very murky issue.
For Minnesota employees it’s important to know your rights to free speech in the event of a wrongful termination.
A recent story out of Virginia shows just how confusing these issues can get, in the case of a sheriff’s deputy who was allegedly fired over a Facebook “like” of the opponent of his new boss. The deputy and five of his colleagues apparently showed support for one of the candidates in the 2009 election by “liking” his page. Their candidate of choice lost, and the employees were all fired.
A federal judge has said that clicking the thumbs-up icon isn’t an actual statement and therefore cannot be protected speech. The deputy is appealing that ruling, arguing that the since the button displays a word, clicking it is the same as writing the word. An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union noted that the thumbs-up symbol is a meaningful sign to most people that expresses an opinion. Facebook has also supported the deputy’s cause, filing a brief comparing the “like” button to a lawn sign supporting a candidate.
These issues are becoming more and more relevant for Minnesota employees.
For more information about free speech at work, visit our Minnesota employment law website.
Source: CNN, “Virginia deputy fights his firing over a Facebook ‘like’” Doug Gross, August 13, 2012.