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Constitutional Violations

Constitutional Employment Rights

The United States Constitution limits the actions of federal, state, and local governments. These limitations apply even when the government is acting in the capacity of someone's employer. Therefore, public sector employees may enjoy some rights under the Constitution that private sector employees generally do not.

Privacy Rights

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people to be "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" and protects them against "unreasonable searches and seizures." Though this right is usually asserted in the criminal context, it has also been used by government workers in lawsuits alleging employer invasions of privacy. Similarly, the Fourteenth Amendment has been interpreted to protect government employees from disclosure of personal information and lifestyle decisions regarding marriage, procreation, family relationships, and child rearing.

The right to workplace privacy is not absolute, even for government workers. The Supreme Court has said that when deciding whether a public sector employee's rights have been violated, courts must "balance the invasion of the employee's legitimate expectations of privacy against the government's need for supervision, control and the efficient operation of the workplace."

The Fourth Amendment does not protect private sector employees, but Texas courts have, in the past, found that certain locations, such as purses and employee lockers, were protected from employer searches. The relevant question is whether an employee has a legitimate expectation of privacy. If he or she does not (such as when an employer posts notice that lockers are subject to search), then employers are allowed to conduct searches.

Due Process Rights

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that the government cannot "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without the due process of law." This is commonly known as the "Due Process Clause." It may be possible for government employees to assert a property interest in continued employment based on the language of their employment contract and thus argue that they cannot be fired without due process. However, employment that is "at-will" (meaning that the employer may fire the employee for any cause, or for no cause at all) does not typically enjoy due process protection.

Freedom of Speech

Government employers must respect their employees' First Amendment rights to free speech, but at the same time, they have a need to efficiently provide the public with certain services. This would be difficult if they were required to allow widespread insubordination (for example) just because such activity is legal outside of the workplace.

Courts have decided that some speech is protected for government employees and some is not. Speech may be protected if it regards a "matter of public concern" and is not made pursuant to the worker's official duties. For example, a government worker cannot be fired for alleging mismanagement of funds or for publicly criticizing a school district for racial discrimination, but the same worker could be fired for spreading malicious rumors about a coworker or otherwise disrupting office morale.

In deciding whether speech is protected or not, the court will weigh the employee's interest against the employer's - in short, does the benefit to the public provided by the speech outweigh the burden the speech places on the employer?

Dallas Employment Law Firm Erick & Thomas May Be Able to Help

Note that although an employee may not have a certain right under the U.S. Constitution, he or she might have that right under another state or federal law. If you believe that your rights have been violated in any way by your employer, contact Dallas employment law firm Erick & Thomas at 214-691-6200 for a free evaluation of your case.

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