Proposal Limits Employers’ Ability to Manage Inappropriate Speech on Job
Should an employer have the right to discipline an employee who makes statements on the job that are harmful to the business? Yes, say the U.S. and Connecticut Supreme Courts. But a proposal tucked away at the end of an otherwise unrelated bill in the Judiciary Committee aims to overturn that precedent.
Section 17 of HB 6667 aims to upend state law by taking away the right of employers to discipline employees who speak out inappropriately on matters of public concern while on the job.
In separate rulings over the past decade, federal and state high courts noted that that when employees make a statement on the job, they are seen to be speaking on behalf of the employer in their official capacity as employees and not as private citizens.
Recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed that this attributed speech could have the same harmful effect on private employers as it does on public employers.
Therefore, said the courts, employers—both public and private—“need a significant degree of control over their employee’s words and actions.”
This measure would significantly increase litigation on workplace issues because of disputes that would arise between employees and managers over any number of conversations that could be deemed controversial or offensive.
Not only would litigation increase, but HB 6667 also takes away the defenses that employers are allowed in these incidences, under state and federal law.
Interferes with Business
What’s more, not giving employers the ability to regulate some speech could impede businesses’ ability to operate.
If an employee disagrees with an employer’s management decisions relating to a public issue, for example, the worker could refuse to comply. If the employer tries to discipline the employee in any way, the worker could claim retaliation because the First Amendment entitles him or her speak out against the business.
Supporters of the bill are trying to paint this proposal as a way to protect whistleblowers. They claim that employees should always be able to speak out on public issues – even while on the job. However, this is a misleading argument because both public and private employees have a number of protections for whistle-blowing activities.
State law protects employees that disclose their employers’ illegal activities and offers additional protections to employees of corporations that are engaged in whistle blowing activities. Similarly, state employees have their own protections when reporting illegal activities taking place in state agencies.
CBIA urges the Judiciary Committee to reject Section 17 of HB 6667 because the courts believe there is a legitimate need to protect employers from their own employees’ speech in the workplace. If overturned by lawmakers, the ability of a business to guard their public image or make unpopular but necessary business decisions will be completely eliminated.
For more information, contact CBIA’s Eric Gjede at 860.244.1931 or email@example.com
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