Free speech in the workplace

A Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission has had something to say about the relevance of principles of free speech in the workplace. The Full Bench did so when dismissing an appeal against a refusal of the Commission to order the reinstatement of an employee who claimed that the reasons for his dismissal were associated with the dissemination of an e-mail which he argued should be protected since it was the expression of his right to free speech.
The Full Bench said “In the employment context, the express terms of the employment contract, employer policies incorporated into or authorised by the employment contract, and the employer’s lawful and reasonable directions may also operate to impose significant constraints upon an employee’s freedom of expression. It is not necessary in this case to explore the outer limits of the extent to which an employer can place limits on the freedom of expression of the employee. It is sufficient to state two propositions: first, that it is well established that it is lawful and reasonable for an employer to require an employee to comply with policies and directions which control the nature of communications over the employer’s electronic communications system, and second, that objectively inappropriate and offensive communications by an employee in the workplace may, depending on the circumstances, constitute a valid reason for dismissal.”
Anderson v Thiess Pty Ltd (2015) FWCFB 478