Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"No Gossip" Policies

There has been a recent rise in the number of employers, both public and private, who have implemented "no gossip" employment policies in the workplace. Essentially, such policies prohibit the creation, dissemination or circulation of any rumor, gossip, negative comment, or other pejorative statement about fellow employees or management personnel. In many instances, the penalty for violation of the policy is termination of the employment.

I can see where such a policy, albeit possibly draconian in nature and/or implementation, could be beneficial in boosting employee morale by eliminating a negative element; it could even insulate the employer from liability against allegations that it suffered or permitted discriminatory statements in the workplace. That's fine for a private employer. However, what about the public employer (e.g., libraries, schools, municipalities, etc.)? Does such a policy constitute a governmental regulation or prohibition of speech, thereby violating the First Amendment? At this juncture, I'm inclined to say that it does, although there is a paucity of precedent squarely on point. I hope to see a Constitutional challenge on this as the issue matures.

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