I asked about the contract, because if you don't have a contract of employment, that makes you an "at will
" employee that can legally be terminated without cause or reason. That would mean that there are a number of reasons that an employer could legally terminate or threaten to terminate you based on, to include comments made outside of work. Your situation is "at will" so the employer can terminate you without cause....and therefore, can threaten termination
on the same basis.
You aren't a government employee, so the First Amendment doesn't apply to the situation at all, because that Amendment only stops the government from stopping speech, not a private employer. So, your employer is not bound by the Amendment to protect your right to free speech.
Now, even private employers can't terminate employees for every thing they say. There are some exceptions to even the "at will" employment concept. For instance, if you are instructed not to speak about concerns that you have with safety
issues under OSHA
. That sort of restriction would be considered a hindrance of reporting and/or retaliation
for being a whistle blower. Another example would be talking to other employees about perceived racial discrimination
in the workplace, which would be a protected activity.
However, here the discussion is about the personal life of the COO. That is not a protected category of discussion (very few things are).
On these facts, your employer can legally make that threat and legally carry that threat out.