Employment & Labour

Employers infringe free expression at their peril

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Employers should not concern themselves with the personal viewpoints of their workers, Toronto employment lawyer Kevin Marshall tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“You want the best and brightest people, regardless of the viewpoints they express — as long as it doesn’t interfere with their ability to do the job,” says Marshall, principal of Kevin Marshall Personal Injury and Employment Law.

Marshall says he can only imagine a few extreme situations where employers might consider taking action against employees over expressions made in the workplace. For example, he cites the case of a church minister who fought the attempt to defrock her, despite her publicly professed atheism.

“Her views went against the core beliefs of the institution she worked for and clearly impacted her ability to do her job. For most other instances, it’s something employers should steer clear of," says Marshall.

“I think there’s a distinction in the vast majority of cases to be made between expressing an opinion and acting on an unpopular opinion. Many people confuse the two,” he adds.

Marshall says a recent lawsuit launched against a university illustrates the dangers for employers when employees feel their personal views have been interfered with.

The Canadian Press reports that a former teaching assistant is suing her university for $3.6 million in damages, claiming she was left unemployable in academia after she was disciplined for showing a TV clip of a professor with controversial views on gender-neutral pronouns.

According to the story, the woman was called to a meeting with her supervisors, whom she says accused her of being threatening to students by showing the video clip.

The woman recorded the meeting, prompting an apology from her school’s president, who promised to prevent a repeat occurrence in future.

Marshall says the entire episode is symptomatic of a worrying trend in the academic realm.

“Universities seem to be indulging in a concerted effort to protect students from sentiments and viewpoints that differ from the majority viewpoint, creating safe spaces that one simply does not see in the real world beyond the boundaries of these educational institutions,” he says.

“These are supposed to be young adults and they should be allowed an opportunity to look at different points of view and make decisions for themselves without university leaders dictating what they can be exposed to.

“To the extent that this mentality is seeping through to employers in the real world, it could have a very profound impact for the worse,” Marshall adds.

“When I hire people, I don’t care about their political or religious beliefs. I just want someone who can do the job,” he says.

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