Employer suppression of free speech: Unequal power in the workplace is silencing workers

Date: May 24, 2022

Americans support free speech protections from government interference, but many are unaware that employers can suppress free speech of workers even when they are off duty or outside of work.

Economic Policy Institute hosted Seattle University School of Law Professor Charlotte Garden for a panel discussion delving into this issue. Garden discussed her new report on the ways that Americans essentially lose their right to free speech when they become employed. Her report is a part of EPI’s “Unequal Power” series of papers exploring how unequal bargaining power in the workplace undermines freedom, fairness, and democracy.  

The restrictions on free speech include constraints on the ability to communicate with co-workers that is so essential to union organizing drives. Employers can suppress free speech because of the “at-will” employment doctrine that allows employees to be fired for bad or arbitrary reasons or no reason at all.

The legal protections from employer suppression of free speech are limited and patchy, making it impossible for workers to know when they will or will not be protected. Moreover, there are substantial difficulties to enforcing one’s rights in court after they have been disciplined or terminated. Employees are left to speak up at their own peril, undoubtedly making silence seem the safer choice.


  • Charlotte Garden, Professor, Seattle University School of Law 
  • Matthew Ginsburg, Associate General Counsel, AFL-CIO
  • Maria Somma, Organizing Director, United Steelworkers
  • Moderator: Wilma Liebman, EPI Board member and former Chairman, National Labor Relations Board

When: Tuesday, May 24, 2022, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.  ET, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. PT

Where: Zoom, YouTube