When exercising the right to freedom of speech the one body an individual is likely to be wary of offending is his own employer. Expressing adverse opinion, publicly criticising and whistleblowing are acts all likely to be perceived by an employer as disloyalty. Laws protecting these individuals are in place but seem to be poorly applied and lack teeth. Fear of speaking out is therefore not unjustified even though any employer taking action against an outspoken employee is acting unlawfully.
The simplest sanction that can be used is the threat of disciplinary action if the employee repeats the “offence” and most employees will take the easy option of shutting up rather than fight their corner. The emotional and financial cost of taking legal action against this bullying should not be underestimated, particularly since the employers are likely to have considerably more money to spend on legal representation. It is still a sad fact in this country that justice tends to go to him with the deepest pocket. So the balance here is heavily in favour of the employer.
As an illustration; A few years ago a NHS Consultant Anaesthetist published, in a since discontinued journal, two articles, one about midwives, and the other about nurses. Both articles made perfectly valid points, presented in a highly scathing manner and inevitably some people took offence. It is worth mentioning here what redress people have in law if they feel offended. None whatsoever. None of us has any right not to be offended, nor any right to expect action to be taken against those who offend us. To repeat the legal judgement “Article 10 applies not only to information or ideas that are favourable and inoffensive but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or a sector of the population.” Stephen Fry expresses this concept succinctly here.
If those offended wished to respond they could have answered the criticisms made, or written an equally scathing article about anaesthetists. As always however the small minded and the stupid take refuge in authority. Complaints were made to the doctor’s employer. The correct course of action would have been for the employer to point out to the complainants that the doctor had a contractual (as well as a legal) right to speak his mind, quoting para 330 of terms and conditions. Instead they chose to get heavy and threatened the doctor with disciplinary action. Sadly the doctor succumbed to this pressure.
So the complainants and the employers effectively won. The articles have all but disappeared and it has taken no small effort to find them again. But I have, and as an exercise in freedom of speech I will be reproducing them in full on this site in the next few weeks.