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What the law says about protected speech in the workplace

New York residents may heard about the former Google engineer who was terminated after posting a controversial memo online to a company forum. In the memo, the employee claimed that women were not as capable of being leaders in the tech industry compared to men. The memo also made comments about Google programs that are only open to minorities and women.

According to Google’s CEO, the engineer was terminated for reinforcing stereotypes related to gender in the workplace. While the employee believed that he was protected from termination simply based on the contents of the memo, the law is likely on Google’s side in this case. This is because the man was likely an at-will employee, which means that he could be terminated for almost any reason. It is also possible that the memo could be classified as sexual harassment.

However, state and federal law does protect workers who take action in an effort to improve working conditions. Other forms of speech are also protected if they are deemed valid forms of dissent within the workplace. Although Google acknowledged that speech is protected to a point, it claimed that the employee overstepped those bounds. It is also important to consider that even if Google did violate the law, the employee may not be able to meet his legal burden to prove it.

If an employer believes that an employee has created a liability issue for the company, it may be possible to take action against that person. Generally, an unlawful termination may occur only if the intent of the termination was to retaliate against an employee or to discriminate against a member of a protected class. Employers who are facing legal action may wish to retain legal counsel to help them learn more about how they can protect themselves while the matter is being resolved.

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