Can Government Employees Criticize the Government?

Government personnel have the freedom to say what they want in their personal lives and on social media — but only, according to Pickering and other court cases, if it doesn’t hurt the government’s performance or damage its public perception.

Public employees also enjoy more protection when discussing topics that have little to do with their actual job duties, according to Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney who writes for the American Civil Liberties Union blog. If someone in the health department wants to disparage the corrections agency, their job is safer than a corrections officer doing the same thing.

“These are general rules, and there are exceptions, such as when an employee’s speech causes disruption to the workplace,” wrote Bhandari. “But properly construed, any exceptions should apply only in those cases where the government’s interest in carrying out its duties is truly impaired by what an employee has said.”

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