I understand in the United States it is perfectly legal for a company to fire employees who have made critical comments about the company. The 1st Amendment rights do not extend to employer/employee relations.

Legality aside, is it ethical for a company to fire an employee who is expressing his or her opinion in a respectful way (not whistleblowing)? Especially when considering that many companies have no compunctions about criticizing employees in performance evaluations, why is it often considered taboo for an employee to make a critical performance evaluation of his or her company?

  • Internally or externally? If I go to my boss and explain why things are all screwed up, I'm doing the company a service (as long as I also bring productive solutions). But if go to the press, not so much. I'll get fired. – user4894 Mar 21 '19 at 1:09
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    What is a company? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood people.fire people. One can't ascribe morality to a thing with no brain. This is why allowing sovreign, or nearly sovreign companies, from the east india to google, is a pretty dumb thing for humanity to do. – Richard Mar 21 '19 at 1:15
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    @user4894 Let's say internal criticisms, either talking with a supervisor or say on an internal intranet forum. – RobertF Mar 21 '19 at 1:45
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    @Richard More specifically, I'll ask if the HR Dept is behaving ethically. – RobertF Mar 21 '19 at 1:49
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    Firing employees who have made critical comments is different from firing employees for making critical comments. The law does protect employee criticism in certain contexts (this is what NLRB is for), but it is complicated by the duty of loyalty, disclosing confidential information, and "upholding image of the company" considerations. In short, in this generality there is no definitive answer, see Dysfunctional Disloyalty Standards in Employee Criticism Cases by Ristau. – Conifold Mar 21 '19 at 10:29

You must distinguish between purpose of a company, local law, and personal motivations of management.

For vast majority of companies primary purpose is simply profit. There are certain large companies (Google and Disney for example) that use their position on the market to push certain political ideas (usually leftist and globalist) even if that hurts them economically, but they are in a minority.

As for the matter of law, most companies do try to obey letter of the law, at the same time trying to find loopholes that would help them with their primary purpose (i.e. profit) . In our case, as you said yourself, law does not protect employee.

Finally, we have personal motivations of the management, which includes ethics. Note that motivation of the management does not need to be aligned with the purpose of the company: for example manager A is criticized by employee B for his shortcomings, therefore manager A fires employee B to save his own skin. Manager A does not act in the interest of the company, he acts in his own interest.

Now we come to the main question, what is more important : personal interest, interest of the company, or interest of the society as a whole.

If you consider business world to be "dog eat dog" and "every man for himself", then firing employee who expressed view potentially harmful to the interest of some manager is justifiable. Of course, in such world nothing would stop that employee to try to return the favor as best he could.

If you consider interest of the company as most important (as we said, this usually means increasing profit as much as possible), then firing employee for his criticism could be justified only if such critique somehow harms the company. Since you excluded whistle-blowing (i.e. going outside with critique) this reduces potential damage therefore firing someone for his expressed opinion would be hard to ethically justify.

Finally, if you consider interest of the society as a whole as most important, it is virtually impossible to imagine opinion that would warrant firing, but not the punishment from that society itself. For example, certain countries criminalize certain ideas and expressing them could land you in jail (for example Holocaust denial) . But in that case law takes precedence over company laws, therefore it would not be ethical to fire someone because law already prescribes punishment.

  • Google and Disney are leftist??? They aren't on my list of allies. – David Blomstrom Mar 21 '19 at 1:22
  • @DavidBlomstrom Depends on point of view, but yes, they are considered leftist. – rs.29 Mar 21 '19 at 7:47
  • "It is virtually impossible to imagine opinion that would warrant firing, but not the punishment from that society itself". No, it is quite easy. If the employee uses obscenities and exaggerations in their criticism, from the point of view of society, it is protected speech, but, from the point of view of the company, it is a firing offense, because it reflects badly on them. This does happen in actual cases. – Conifold Mar 21 '19 at 10:38
  • @rs.29 - Google and Disney are considered right-wing, too. As you said, it depends on one's point of view. – David Blomstrom Mar 21 '19 at 12:23
  • @Conifold Priorities, my friend. If society cherish obscene speech so much that it is protected, then company that values interest of society above everything else must also protect it. But since companies mostly care about themselves above everything else, they do not protect such speech in real life. – rs.29 Mar 21 '19 at 18:15

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