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Speechless: The Erosion of Free Expression in the American Workplaceby Bruce Barry
Synopses & Reviews
Speechless takes on the state of free expression in the American workplace, exploring its history, explaining how and why Americans have come to take freedom of speech for granted, and demonstrating how employers can legally punish employees for speaking their minds.
Bruce Barry shows how constitutional law erects formidable barriers to free speech in workplaces, while employment law gives employers wide latitude to suppress speech with impunity — even speech that is unrelated to the job or the company. Employers, with rights of property ownership over not just what they manage but how they manage, can decide just how much employee speech they will tolerate. Workers have little choice but to accept conditions of employment or go elsewhere.
Barry argues that a toxic combination of law, conventional economic wisdom, and accepted managerial practice has created an American workplace in which freedom of speech — that most crucial of civil liberties in a healthy democracy — is something you do after work, on your own time, and even then (for many), only if your employer approves. Barry proposes changes both to the law and to management practice that would expand employees' expressive rights without jeopardizing the legitimate interests of employers.
In defense of freer speech in and around the workplace, Barry argues that a healthy democracy depends in part on the experience of liberty at work. Workplaces are key venues for shared experience and public discourse, so workplace speech rights matter deeply for advancing citizenship, community, and democracy in a free society.
"Attention: No more loose talk about American 'democracy' until you've read Speechless! Bruce Barry exposes the shameful fact that most Americans are forced to check their civil liberties — and especially their freedom of speech — at the workplace door. I'm hoping this important book will inspire a new civil rights movement — this time for American workers of all collar colors." Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream and Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
"Speechless provides a thoughtful analysis of the intersection of employment and free expression. Barry makes a compelling argument that the trend toward greater restrictions on employees' speech has implications that reach beyond the office walls and jeopardizes the well-being of our democracy." Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union
"A comprehensive and thoughtful overview of the sadly impoverished state of freedom of speech for workers, public and private, in American society. It is a must-read for those who care about the vitality of public discourse, the state of civil liberties, corporate compliance with law, or the intelligent management of a modern workforce." Cynthia Estlund, Catherine A. Rein Professor of Law, New York University, and author of Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy
Book News Annotation:
Barry (management and sociology, Vanderbilt U.) outlines the legal, ethical, and managerial contours of free speech rights or the lack thereof in the American workplace. He discusses the constitutional "state action" doctrine that defines how rights apply differently in public and private settings and US labor law's "employment-at-will" system as key underpinnings of employer control over expressive activity. He then describes the legal evolution and status of free speech in government and private sector employment. He also explores connections between workplace speech and issues of civil rights, information technology, and work performance. He concludes that constraints on free speech by employers is a threat to more than workplace culture and individual liberty, arguing that it also poses risks for the health of civil society and deliberative democracy. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In this troubling analysis of recent trends in the workplace, Vanderbilt professor of management and sociology Bruce Barry shows how Americans? increasing willingness to sacrifice basic freedoms while on the job undermines both our productivity as workers and our individual and collective ability to cultivate and participate in a free society.
A factory worker is fired because her boss dislikes the political bumper sticker on her car in the parking lot. Another is canned after refusing to display an American flag at his workstation. A flight attendant is grounded because her airline doesn't like what she's writing in her personal blog. Is it legal to fire people for expressing themselves, even when it's unrelated to performing their jobs? Can you lose your job because of a bumper sticker? For many American workers, the answer is yes. In ""Speechless,"" Bruce Barry confronts the state of free speech in the American workplace. He shows how employers and courts are eroding workers' abilities to express themselves on and off the job, with damaging consequences for individuals, their employers, and civil society as a whole. In defense of free speech in and around the workplace, Barry argues that the experience of liberty in a free society, as well as in life, in general, depends in part on the experience of liberty at work.
About the Author
Bruce Barry is professor of management and sociology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. His research on workplace behavior and business ethics has been published in numerous scholarly journals. He is president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and has been a contributing writer for two weekly Nashville newspapers.
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