Employee has no right to speak


Let me ask editor Dennis Evanosky ("School District Under Fire," Feb. 20) and Paul Ivanovich Chichikov ("District Issues Worrisome Directive," Feb. 20) a question.

Assume you are employed by a company. Assume that something that your company has done is a matter of public concern. And let’s say you walk out the door of your workplace one evening after work, and a journalist with a notebook or a reporter with a microphone asks you for your opinion on this company matter. What are you, as an employee of the company, allowed to say?

The answer is nothing. Legally, ethically and as a matter of loyalty and common sense, you are allowed to say nothing.

Everyone who has a real job knows this. It is common knowledge in the real working world. Every organization has an information officer, a public relations person or spokesperson who makes approved public statements on behalf of the company. No one else is legally allowed to do so. This is not controversial and has nothing to do with free speech.

In addition to this legal restriction, an employee is not allowed to voluntarily admit to outsiders that the company is at fault in any company activity. That is also common sense and a legal necessity.

There are certainly exceptions for whistleblowing, and employees have an obligation to speak up about illegal conduct. But something like that is rightly reserved for serious law breaking or negligence.

And of course, as a citizen, you can make statements outside the venue of your workplace about almost anything but your company’s business without any fear of retribution. Jeffrey Smith, for example, has no problem addressing the general state of public education in the pages of the Alameda Sun.

And I thought the story of Mr. Dynamic was hilarious. I bet the Lincoln Middle School kids cracked up. The school’s principal, Michael Hans, seems to have handled it quite correctly.

Editor’s note: Reichert’s premise about the employees not having the right to speak out on the gas-leak issue falls apart when one recalls that school district administrators allegedly took the broken device to a bar on Webster Street and openly discussed the leak.

In other words, teachers can’t talk to reporters about the same incident that the administrators were allegedly free to openly discuss while bellying up to the bar.

Chichikov felt that the warning to the teachers not to speak to the press did not jive with the behavior of the administrators at the 1400 Bar and Grill. The Alameda Sun relegated this part of the story to the op-ed page because no one other than the teachers who approached Chichikov were willing to comment on the alleged behavior at the 1400 Bar and Grill, and none of those wanted their names used for fear of losing their jobs.