News 5 Investigates: Freedom of speech in the workplace, how what you post on social media could jeopardize your job

Mobile County

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — George Floyd’s death is sparking a lot of debate over freedom of speech and racism. Locally, a teacher and a police officer are under investigation for comments they made on Facebook.

In Santa Rosa County, Pace High School teacher Lisa Dillashaw openly questioned why so many African Americans feel they don’t have a voice, a major point of the ongoing protests. The school district is now reviewing the post for possible ethics violations.

In Mobile, police officer Deron Mcmichael is facing scrutiny for some comments he made three years ago, making derogatory remarks about a woman wearing a hijab in her mug shot. Mobile Police saying they’re actively investigating.

“I hear all the time in investigations, employees say, ‘what about my first amendment rights? Can I say what I want to say?’ And the question for that if you work for a private employer, no,” said Thomas Woodford an Employment Attorney at Phelps and Dunbar LLP.

Social media has become a key part of our daily lives used in ways to create, engage, and stay in touch. But as more issues arise worldwide, for some, it’s becoming a bit toxic.

Attorney Woodford said when it comes to freedom of speech, it ultimately boils down to public vs. private employers.

“In the current environment that we are in, we’re seeing more racially insensitive posts and things like that. And employees can get suspended reprimanded or depending on the severity of it they can be terminated and employers have the right to do that,” said Woodford.

Woodford said unless you’re a government employee, what you post on social media is not protected under the 1st Amendment. Which only protects us from state and federal government interference.

“I see it all the time and it comes from a lack of knowledge that the 1st amendment does not protect language or does not protect you with a private employer,” said Woodford.

Alabama is an at-will state, so certain rules apply. And in most cases, it is up to the employer to decide what they are willing to put up with depending on what you say.

Woodford tells Amber Grigley, that in 33 years of practicing this issue comes up frequently. And is a constant reminder to be mindful of what you post because in some cases, it can cost you your job.


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