Civil Rights Claims
The United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution provide important civil rights at work, including the right to freedom of speech, the right to petition the government, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of association, the right to equal protection of law and the right to due process of law. These rights apply to all citizens, including ones who work for the federal, state and local government.
It is important to realize that each Constitutional right is limited. For example, these freedoms only protect you from actions by the government, your exercise of these rights cannot unreasonably interfere with someone else's right, and employers still can establish reasonable policies, rules and job requirements even if they impede on your Constitutional rights.Freedom of Speech
Under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, individuals have the right to free speech. This means the government is limited in how it can respond to the words you use outside of work and outside of your job duties. As an employee, you might have a First Amendment retaliation claim if your employer fires, disciplines or harasses you, or takes another adverse employment action against you because you spoke out about a matter of public concern.
Not all speech is protected by the First Amendment. For example, the speech has to relate to a matter of public concern. In other words, it has to be about a matter of political, social or other concern to the community. If you work for the government, for your speech to be protected it has to have been made by you as a citizen, rather than as part of fulfilling your job duties. Further, in some cases a judge has to decide whether the value of your speech outweighs the government’s interest in providing efficient public services through its employees.Freedom of Religion
The First Amendment also guarantees citizens the right of freedom of religion. This means the government is limited in the ways it can prohibit religious practices, including some expressions of religious beliefs in the workplace. Similarly, in New Jersey and New York religious discrimination by both public and private employers is prohibited, meaning an employer cannot discriminate against an employee based on his or her religious practices or beliefs.Freedom to Petition the Government
Employees also have a Constitutional right to formally petition the government. This includes the right to file a lawsuit or union grievance, or to make certain other formal protests against the federal, state or local government. As a result, it is unlawful for the government to retaliate against a public employee because he petitioned the government.Equal Protection of Law
Under certain circumstances, before the government can take away a person’s life, liberty or property, the individual is entitled to fair notice, a hearing and a decision by an impartial judge. As a result, some employees who work for the government are entitled to a hearing before they can be fired, demoted, suspended without pay or subjected to other severe discipline.The New Jersey Civil Rights Act
In 2004, New Jersey passed the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (NJCRA), a new law protecting citizens from violations of the state and federal constitution. For more information, please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.Contact an Experienced Employment Attorney
If you believe your civil rights have been violated at work, we can help. Our attorneys are experienced at representing employees who have experienced retaliation in violation of the First Amendment and violations of their right to freedom of religion, to petition the government, or to equal protection or due process of law. For more information, we welcome you to contact us online or call us at (973) 744-4000.