Free Speech Press Release

03.09.09

Employee Policy Restricts Free Speech, Says ACLU

Summit County Board of MRDD Prohibits Workers from Discussing Issues Ranging from Politics to Sports

AKRON – Today, the ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to Bill Payne, Senior Director of Board Services and Supports, regarding a memo that was issued to employees of the Summit County Board of MRDD in November 2008. The memo, entitled “Professionalism in the Workplace” prohibits any conversation by employees on any topic not directly related to enhancing the work of the organization. In its letter, the ACLU of Ohio urged Mr. Payne to immediately suspend the policy because it violated employees’ right to free speech.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “This policy is far too broad. If applied, employees could be punished simply for commenting on the weather, asking a coworker how their child is doing at school or talking about the big football game over the weekend. In its effort to prevent conversations that disrupt office workflow, the Summit County Board of MRDD has effectively quelled all speech at the workplace.”

“While all employers should promote an atmosphere of civility and respect in the office, denying workers their right to discuss issues ranging from politics to the economy threatens free speech. In addition, preventing workers from engaging in these conversations may diminish employees’ ability to relate to one another, form cohesive working groups and exacerbate existing interpersonal issues,” added Link.

Mr. Payne stated in his November 17, 2008 memo that any conversation by employees on a whole range of topics, including “politics, the economy, religion… or any other topic not directly related to engaging and supporting the individuals we serve” was prohibited. In its letter, the ACLU pointed out that the board cannot ban all outside speech simply because they assume all conversations will be disruptive to their work.

“If an employee is being disruptive, management should have a policy in place to process complaints. However, silencing all employees tramples free speech and may be counter productive to creating a positive working environment,” concluded Link.