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Things to know what free speech protects and why it probably won't save your job

Capitol Breach
Posted at 11:55 AM, Jan 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-14 13:55:51-05

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Not long after Paul Davis went live on his social media account to say he and others were trying to get into the U.S. Capitol and being tear-gassed, the Texas-based lawyer was terminated by the insurance company he worked for.

"Paul Davis, Associate General Counsel, is no longer employed by Goosehead," the company said in a tweet the next day. And in a statement, Goosehead's CEO said, “While we support our employees’ right to vote and express themselves politically, we do not condone violent or illegal acts. This one former employee’s actions are not reflective of our company culture or values, and we are disappointed with his behavior."

Action News talked to attorney Deborah Gordon, who specializes in employment and civil rights law, about what the right to free speech protects and what it does not cover.

"The First Amendment applies only to actions by the government," Gordon said. "If you work for a private company and they do not like what you are talking about on the job and possibly off the job, and you're an at-will employee, they have the right to tell you they don't want to employ you anymore.

"Understand that if you work for the government after you check your policy and you want to go to your protest, do it strictly in your own personal capacity. Do not align yourself with your employer. You are there as an individual."

Gordon said more companies are developing policies regarding what their employees post on social media and she expects more companies to start adding elements to address participation in any kind of protest.

If you are going to attend any kind of protest, Gordon suggests that you come up with a plan and stick to it.

"Think it out. Don't show up and get caught up in the moment of the crowd, start doing dumb things, and then videotaping yourself doing them. That is a recipe for disaster," Gordon said. "And, of course, don't break the law because once you break the law, almost all employers are going to take the position that you should be fired.

"Go out there because you have a message you want to impart and do it in a very responsible way that you're actually making a difference. And that's no matter what you're protesting for. We all understand that."

This story was first published by Kimberly Craig at WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan.