First Amendment Flap Rocks Gloucester County Government

First Amendment Flap Rocks Gloucester County Government

Riddle: what does the Gloucester County Times Editorial Board, the Gloucester County GOP, its two tenacious first-term freeholders (Larry Wallace and Vince Nestore) and the liberal Communication Workers of America (CWA) public employee union have in common?

Answer: They’re all diametrically opposed to a new Gloucester County policy that severely restricts the “speech” of its public employees. Some say it’s a clear violation of their First Amendment rights.

A brief overview of the policy in question from The Times:

The social media policy prohibits workers from engaging in personal online activities while on the county’s clock. Plus, it prohibits county workers from harassing or libeling any person associated with the county or the county’s “general reputation.”

It also prohibits employees from posting pictures of the county’s premises, properties or activities to non work-related social media without written consent; prohibits workers from linking to any internal and external county material or referencing the county-provided email account; and if the county is listed as the social media user’s workplace, “employees must prominently and expressly state that any views expressed therein are their own and not those of the County of Gloucester.”

Violations may subject an employee to disciplinary action — up to and including termination, according to the policy.

Click here to review the policy statement for yourselves, Save Jerseyans.

It’s no secret that companies across America are adopting increasingly restrictive social media policies. Some employers are even demanding prospective employees’ Facebook passwords as a condition of employment! And as much as my generation may balk at such intrusions, private employers will probably continue to enjoy significant latitude when it comes to their employees’ behavior.

But is it appropriate for public sector employers to control their employees’ opinions, particularly when they’re off the clock?

It depends. For example, in its 2006 decision Garcetti v Ceballos, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment does not protect public employees when they make “statements made pursuant to their official duties.” This isn’t a black and white determination, folks, and whether the Glouco policy is overly-broad and insufficiently specific may soon be a legal question unless the country preemptively revises it given the strange coalition lining up against it.

 

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