Public Employees, Private Speech: 1st Amendment doesn’t always protect government workers

Source: David L. Hudson Jr., ABA Journal, May 1, 2017

High-profile controversies over police shootings, questionable promotions, racial profiling, attacks on law enforcement and race-based incidents have led to an increase in public employees being disciplined for publicly posting commentary deemed offensive or incendiary.

Public employees have been suspended for all manner of speech—supporting the shooting of police officers, lauding officers for shooting citizens, criticizing their students or co-workers, mocking minorities or religions and for a litany of other messages on social media. ….

The number of such social media cases involving public employees disciplined for posts has been on the rise, observers say. …. In the past, public employees could engage in inflammatory speech on the telephone or in personal conversations at home or work without those conversations being memorialized. However, when public employees post such statements online for the world to see, there can be negative ramifications. …. However, some believe it’s unseemly to allow the government to punish employees for purely off-duty speech created in the privacy of one’s home. ….