A&A: Political speech in the workplace

Q: The company I work for wants me to remove a bumper sticker(“fuck bush”) from my car. I was told that my car will be towed from the employee lot if I do not and may and can lead to job termination. Do they have the right to do so?

A: Although the First Amendment limits the restrictions that government employers can place on employee speech, private employers have much greater latitude to restrict employee speech.  Both the First Amendment and the free speech right of the California constitution protect against state — and not private — action.  See Golden Gateway Center v. Golden Gateway Tenants Ass’n, 26 Cal. 4th 1013, 1031 (2001).

In 2004, a California court rejected the claim of an employee that her termination by her private employer was a violation of “fundamental principles of public policy” such that she could recover damages from her employer in a lawsuit.  Grinzi v. San Diego Hospice Corp., 120 Cal. App. 4th 72, 79 (2004).  The court said that “the First Amendment free speech provision fails to establish public policy against terminations by private employers for speech-related activities because this provision applies only to government actions and expresses no public policy regarding terminations by private employers.”  Id. at 77.