President Donald Trump suggested the NFL “fire or suspend” players who kneel during the national anthem, igniting a debate among fans over whether athletes or employees of a company in general, can make such expressions in the workplace.
“As a general rule, private employers can impose rules and standards on their employees including having to do with speech,” said Terry Venneberg, a Washington employment lawyer.
The First Amendment prohibits the government, not private companies, from imposing limits on free speech, Venneberg said.
For employees in the private sector, beyond the big leagues, it is wise to know and understand their company’s code of conduct and ethics documents, as well as employment contracts. They should outline what someone is allowed to say or do while they are employed.
NFL players sign a contract that includes a section titled “SKILL, PERFORMANCE AND CONDUCT,” which states that “…if Player has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club, then Club may terminate this contract.”
Seahawks President Peter McLoughlin issued a statement backing players who stayed in the locker room during the anthem, instead of standing on the field.
“We fully support our players’ use of their freedom of speech and peaceful action to highlight the existing racial and other divides in our country,” McLoughlin wrote.
Several NASCAR team owners and executives, however, made clear that their team members and employees would face consequences if they protested during the anthem.
Richard Childress, who was Dale Earnhardt’s longtime team owner, said of protesting: “It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus,” according to an Associated Press report.
But Earnhardt's son, Dale Jr., appeared to have a differing opinion on social media, tweeting a quote from President John F. Kennedy.
All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) September 25, 2017
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK
No drivers, crew or other team members protested during the national anthem before a race in New Hampshire, Sunday, the AP reported.