Magazine article People & Strategy

Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace

Magazine article People & Strategy

Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace

Article excerpt

Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplace

Author: Bruce Barry

Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007

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As you read Barry's book, you might wonder whether we live in 2008 or Orwell's 1994. The author describes a frightening workplace trend of silencing employees who exercise what most people consider their constitutional right to free speech; however, this book shows that the concept of free speech taught in schools is a rare commodity in business organizations. Using many examples, such as termination because of an employee's bumper stickers or refusal to attend a pro-war rally, we are shown that workplaces do not have to abide by the concept of free speech. Most employees are hired "at will," meaning they can be hired or fired for no reason, including what they advocate.

The employment at will concept has exceptions, including the National Labor Relations Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. More recent legislation protects the speech of whistleblowers. Businesses (particularly, private corporations) do not generally need to permit free speech by their employees, whether on company premises or off, on company time or off. This issue may seem one of legal debate or philosophical discussion, but many management and HR issues are tied up with this topic.

First, as the author presents, part of free speech is due process in an organization. Research has shown repeatedly that employees are more satisfied with their organizations and feel more committed to them when they feel fairly treated. …

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