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Allen M., Esq.
Allen M., Esq., Employment Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
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Experience:  Employment/Labor Law Litigation
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Can my employer legally threaten to fire me if i speak about

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Can my employer legally threaten to fire me if i speak about a topic outside of the workplace?
Hello, my name is XXXXX XXXXX I look forward to assisting you today. I bring nearly 20 years of experience in various legal disciplines.

Are you a government employee?

What does he not want you to speak about? Just generally the topic.

Do you have an employment contract stating that you can only be terminated for cause?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

The company is privately owned with roughly 40 employees.


The COO does not want me speaking to coworkers on my own time away from work about the cause for divorce between my sister and brother-in-law. My brother-in-law is also the brother of the COO, and former President of company.


Handbook states that company can "terminate with or without cause"

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.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

My concern is not whether I may speak about the topic, but that he is attempting to prohibit private conversation outside of work. Is that considered harassment?

No, it's not considered harassment, because it's not an illegal act.

If he were threatening violence or destruction of your property, that could be dealt with by a court for the issue of harassment.

But here, he can legally threaten your job, because it is an "at will" job and the speech isn't legally protected speech in this situation. I sue employers for a living and have every reason here to give you a basis for suit or some legal path to protect you, but there just isn't in this situation.

He can legally make this threat and carry it out.
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