Free speech can legally be limited by a worker's employer, even in instances where what is being said has no apparent relation to the workplace. Artenol photo illustration

Hired? Check your rights at the office door ...

By Lew Maltby


Lynne Gobbell was fired because her boss didn’t like the bumper sticker on her car.

During the 2004 presidential election, Gobbell put a “Kerry for President” bumper sticker on her car. Her boss told her she “could either work for John Kerry or work for me.” When Gobbell refused to remove the sticker, her boss fired her on the spot.

Gobbell called her lawyer, who told her there was nothing he could do; her boss’s conduct was completely legal.

Gobbell fell into the black hole of human rights in the United States. The United States invented human rights. People in most countries can only dream of the freedoms we enjoy. In America, you can criticize any government official, including the president, even in rude, profane terms, without fear of punishment. Try that in Russia, China, Iran, Kenya or Guatemala, and you could find yourself in prison, or dead.

But Lynne Gobbell’s freedom of speech, and yours, disappears every morning when you go to work. The United States Constitution applies only to the government. It does not apply to private parties, including corporations. Your employer, whether it’s a mom-and-pop or a multinational corporation, can fire you for anything you say, anywhere, at any time. When it comes to your boss, there is no such thing as freedom of speech.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects shall not be violated.

− United States Constitution

Privacy is dead. Get over it.

− Scott McNealy, former president, Sun Microsystems

Your right to privacy also goes up in smoke when you go to work. Virtually every employer in America now monitors everything you do on your company computer  − even personal messages you sent your spouse, doctor or lawyer during your lunch break. Switching to your personal email provides no protection; everything goes through the same company server. Every website you visit is recorded, including the websites you visit about highly personal issues such as substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence.

Don’t think it’s not happening to you because your boss hasn’t told you you’re being watched. The law doesn’t require employers to tell employees that they’re being monitored, and most employers don’t disclose it.

Some employers go so far as installing hidden cameras to secretly watch employees. Gail Nelson, who worked for Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts, changed into her gym clothes in her cubicle after everyone else left. Her employer secretly taped her undressing every day for months. When she sued, the Massachusetts Supreme Court said she had no case.

Your boss’ monitoring and control doesn’t end when work is over. If you log onto the company computer network at home, everything you do is monitored just like you did it at work. If you think your boss isn’t interested in learning more about your private life, think again. A survey by the American Bar Association found that the majority of employers expressed interest in acquiring information from employees’ home computers.

Worse yet, many employers now conduct Internet searches on employees. Anything you say on your personal blog or website that offends your boss can get you fired. Cameron Barrett, an IT employee from Michigan, lost his job because his boss didn’t like the sex scenes in the short stories he posted on his personal blog.

Read the rest of this story in the Summer 2016 issue of Artenol. Order yours today

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