flag.jpgDo you find the Confederate flag offensive? One worker did and it led to the suspension of another.

An employee of Delaware’s transportation department was suspended earlier this month for driving his vehicle on state property. Government officials said they found the license plate offensive because it was emblazoned with the words “Red Neck” and also displayed a Confederate flag, according to an article in my local paper this morning.

The worker, Tom Drummond, had the plate on his car for years, and had driven the vehicle to work since he started in 2008. But a complaint from another employee who felt the plate was a form of harassment prompted the state’s action.

I’ve written a lot in the past about how employees have few if any free speech rights when they enter the nation’s factories or offices. Clearly, you can be fired for what ever the heck you say when it comes to politics, but there’s one glaring exception — the government-run workplace.

Few if any states have laws protecting employee free speech who work for private employers, but government employees tend to have more First Amendment rights said Risa Lieberwitz, professor of labor and employment law at Cornell University’s ILR School. But, she added, “The scope of those rights has been severely limited by a series of Supreme Court cases.”

Only unions, she continued, give workers the best protections because typically union contracts require that workers can only be fired or suffer any adverse job action for “just cause.”

The situation with the Delaware transportation worker muddies the labor waters a bit. While government can’t curtail an individual’s free speech, and that means government workers as well, they can take steps to curtail abusive or harassing behavior in the workplace.

Does the Confederate flag rise to the level abuse or harassment?

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