From hospital employees exposing the ugly truth happening during the COVID-19 pandemic to frustrated truck drivers experiencing unfair labor practices, many of these employment practices do not make it to public knowledge until it hits the media.
Unfortunately, when employees in the public and private sectors speak to reporters, they often are met with retaliation by employers for breaking non-disclosure agreements or other employment contracts. But how legal are these employment policies and what happens to a person’s First Amendment right?
At Brown Kwon & Lam, we protect the civil liberties of public and private sector employees from whistleblower retaliation.
What laws protect employees who speak to the media? – National Labor Relations Act
Many employees believe that when they sign employment contracts, they forfeit their rights to speak out against unjust employment practices. While many workplaces will inform employees to let the company public relations spokesperson handle media contacts, the reality is that in most cases, this is likely against the law. However, what employees need to know is that depending on who you work for will determine which law will protect you.
The First Amendment protects public employees who exercise their right to speak about work matters to the media without the employer’s permission. While the commonly held belief is that government employees cannot speak to the media unless they are of a certain level, in numerous cases, such policies have been deemed unconstitutional when challenged by the employees.
Though the First Amendment protects public employees, it does not protect private employees. But that doesn’t mean they cannot exercise their right to speak to the media. Instead, the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was enacted to protect the rights of employees and employers which encourage collective bargaining, and diminish certain private-sector practices that are damaging to workers, businesses, and the economy.
Similarly to the First Amendment protections, The National Labor Relations Board has interpreted the NLRA to protect private-sector employees’ right to discuss workplace issues with the media as often, public support is needed to enact change.
If faced with an unlawful media relations policy in your public or private sector employment, you just need to know if you are protected by your First Amendment rights or those protections under the NLRA. An employee rights attorney will be able to establish which protects you.
Unlawful Employment Policies
Some employers will argue that the law does not apply to their specific employment policies but that simply is not true. Examples of unlawful employment practices about confidentiality include:
- Employment contracts classifying personnel information and documents as confidential information that must stay within the company
- Pre-employment non-disclosure agreements forbidding employees from discussing compensation, job history, reimbursements, etc. with a third party without approval
- Confidentiality policies that prohibit disclosing any material or information about the company, that also prohibit employees from negative comments about the company
You cannot expose trade secrets and confidential information about the company. But when you are speaking out against illegal practices or unfair labor treatment, you have a right to speak up.
Protecting Employees Rights to Speak Up Against Injustice: Brown Kwon & Lam
Whether you are a private or public-sector employee, you have the right to speak to the media to expose injustices and enact change within the company or entity you are employed by. But when you face retaliation or wrongful termination because of it, your rights have been violated and you need legal support.
The New York employee rights attorneys of Brown Kwon & Lam are here for you. Contact us today for a consultation of your case.