Employees and Social Media - Examining Rights to Free Speech in the Workplace

Event Name Employees and Social Media - Examining Rights to Free Speech in the Workplace
Start Date 1st Apr 2014 5:00pm
End Date 1st Apr 2014 6:00pm
Duration 1 hour

Open to all.

Speaker: Dr Paul Wragg, University of Leeds

This paper considers the law's treatment of disciplinary action taken against employees for expression that their employers dislike and its compatibility with traditional liberal principle. Given the prominence of social media in contemporary life, this is a significant current legal issue and yet one that has attracted relatively little academic comment. Arguably, the law provides only flimsy protection for the employee against unfair or wrongful dismissal in these circumstances. It is particularly noticeable that although the common law in general recognises the importance of individual autonomy in determining rights claims, this well-established liberal value does not appear to inform the outcome of claims in this context and, instead, employer interests dominate judicial reasoning. At a more general level, the realisation of meaningful human rights protection in the workplace has attracted much academic debate, which has largely emphasised the importance of greater judicial engagement with the principle of proportionality when determining claims. This paper argues that this strategy would not enhance the employee's position by itself due to both the common law's weak conceptualisation of the free speech right and the judicial emphasis upon the attendant responsibilities attached to it, thus leaving the proportionality argument with little purchase. This paper argues that, in order to realise a more meaningful free speech right, the law should draw less upon apparent libertarian values and more directly upon the liberal arguments that Article 10 represents. It is, therefore, both an argument about the philosophical and doctrinal method by which the Article 10 right may be bolstered and a corresponding argument in favour of protecting expression even though it may harm employer interests.

Dr Paul Wragg is an Associate Professor in law at the University of Leeds and an Academic Fellow of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. His research interests are interdisciplinary in nature and focus on the law's conceptualisation of the right to freedom of expression and its comparison to established philosophical principle. In particular, he has written extensively about press freedom and the law's protection of privacy-invading expression and was shortlisted for the 2012 SLS best paper prize on this topic. He is author of the Westlaw Insight section on privacy. Prior to his academic career he qualified as a solicitor and specialised in employment law.