Does my right to free speech end at my workplace?
Q. Our employer has told us that we are not to voice our political opinions at work – no literature on our desks, no bumper stickers on our cars in the parking lot! I feel as if my right to free speech is being abrogated – can they get away with this?
A. No bumper stickers? Seriously?
There are fine lines to be drawn in workplace expression, but this approach, if not illegal, is certainly extreme. I would first try to understand your employer’s rationale. Is he just paranoid about politics? Is this prompted by some horrible past incident? Is your work environment politically polarized?
Politics is, by nature, polarizing. It’s about the body politic, or the polis – how we, as social beings organize our lives together under shared values. Like the subject of religion, it deals with the higher things, about which people disagree, and brings passion, because these things matter greatly.
The workplace should be focused on the common mission of the enterprise. That’s why the subjects of religion and politics are better not explored or debated there. Unless there is unanimity of political viewpoint, discussion will more often stir dissension and hard feelings. Employers don’t want that dynamic. And neither do most employees. They’re savvy enough to be discreet and politic (pun intended).
No literature on desks is not altogether unreasonable. It’s at least inappropriate and distracting for the work setting. But bumper stickers? Who’s out there monitoring? And how do they affect performance and teamwork? Admittedly, they could impact an employee’s favor with the higher ups and promotion potential. So it’s prudent to be aware of that unfortunate reality.
Maybe the employees can object by proposing equally bizarre alternatives, like having designated parking areas by politics.
But first, seek to understand. “The purposes of a man’s mind is like deep water, but one with understanding will draw it out.” (Proverbs 20:5) The explanation would at least give you a basis from which to argue for a better approach for the same end.
Jim Berlucchi is the executive director of the Spitzer Center, whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization (www.spitzercenter.org).