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Freedom of Expression in the Corporate Workplace: A Philosophical Inquiry

Should employees of large private business corporations be able to speak their mind without fear of dismissal or other sanctions?


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Tealfeed Guest Blog

2 years ago | 2 min read

“It is dangerous to be right in matters  on which the established authorities are wrong”
– Voltaire

In a novel entitled Scientists and Engineers: The Professionals Who Are Not the author, Lewis V. McIntire, presents a highly negative picture of life as an employee for a large private business. Characters various colours of life & weight against unfair advantages of an employee in contracts, cheating inventors out of bonuses, management favouritism.

The fictional employer bears a striking resemblance to Dow DuPont, the company for which the author worked. He was fired the year the book was published.

Should employees of large private business corporations be able to speak their mind without fear of dismissal or other sanctions?

In this article, I will argue that they should for reasons closely related to fundamentals of freedom of expression pertaining to the relation between state and individuals.

An important and controversial consequence of this view is that corporate employees should be free to speak without fear of sanctions or dismissal even when they make false allegations that lead to a decline in either profits or productivity. 

“Liberty leading the people”, by Eugène Delacroix.
“Liberty leading the people”, by Eugène Delacroix.


But why should there be such an atmosphere where the principle of freedom of expression as defined by political philosophers apply solely to the relation between state and citizen?

Although such interferences might warrant condemnation for a variety of reasons depending on the circumstances such as unfairness, rudeness, or sexual harassment. It is important because it opens the metaphorical door for the employee to communicate. Often time the employee’s do not speak out of fear of condemnation which is harmful to the employee and organization in the longer run.

Freedom of expression channelled by the state to individuals should incline corporations to model out a similar perspective where the employee does not feel the burden to remain silent. One can start the analysis by contrasting two basically different views of making out the case for freedom of expression in corporations.

THE FIRST MODE OF ARGUMENT FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IN THE CORPORATE WORKPLACE

The first mode of argument, the volunteer public guardian approach sees the case for freedom of expression as it deals potential benefits to society from increased exposure of corporate corruption, negligence, and waste.

The following quotation from Where The Law Ends by Christopher Stone exemplifies this approach.

“….Anyone concerned with improving the exchange of information between the corporation and the outside world pay serious regard to the so-called whistleblower. The corporate workforce in America, in the aggregate, will always know more than the best-planned government inspection system were are likely to finance. Traditionally workers have kept their mouths shut about “sensitive matters that come to their attention. There is any number of reasons for this, ranging from a peer group of reasons for this, ranging from peer group extractions to the employee’s more solid fears of being fired…

This means that if ethical whistleblowing is to be encouraged some special protection and perhaps even incentives will have to be afforded the whistleblower.”

Whistleblower (noun). (Image source: Goldberg & de Villiers)
Whistleblower (noun). (Image source: Goldberg & de Villiers)

THE SECOND APPROACH

The second approach is more direct and revolves around liberty approach. It does not focus upon the immediate social benefits to be gained as a result of a more open atmosphere in corporations. It suggests that we should look upon freedom of expression as an inherent right in the workplace.

We have two kinds of approaches, the volunteer approach and freedom approach. Both points to a future were employee rights will be inherited from the fundamental proposition that is a man born free. Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity in the workplace will be the call in the new revolution!

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