The First Amendment gives Americans freedom of speech, however, it does not give citizens freedom from consequences of their speech, says tech author and BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page. Recently, a Google engineer was fired after releasing a controversial memo stating women don’t advance in the tech industry because of biological differences. Page uses this issue to shed light on how companies can manage free expression in the workplace.

SEE: Employee political activity policy (Tech Pro Research)

In the situation of the Google memo, the employee was fired not because he broke a law, but because he broke a company policy.

“When people talk about having open discourse and people being able to be free to express their opinions, what they mean is about ‘how to develop a product’ or ‘how to address company services,’ Page said. “They want to have alternative points of view around making the best possible product.”

This freedom of expression in the workplace isn’t an excuse to get into political debates, and most companies don’t want you to do that, she said.

It also becomes a liability issue for a company when its employees make derogatory comments about their colleagues–especially in an environment where collaboration is critical–because it affects employees’ comfort levels and deters the best talent.

SEE: Hostile workplace prevention policy (Tech Pro Research)

Page suggested that companies of every size should have a code of conduct about internal and external communications. Companies need have policies in place about the type of speech that’s appropriate for their employees about their colleagues. Employees should also know that they represent the company when talking about anything relevant to their industry.

“This should be normal for companies and employees to understand,” she said.

Page said that all companies with over 50 employees should have an HR manager. Once a company reaches that size, there are a lot more policies and regulations that need to be put in place.

“There are baseline HR things that you should do at every company, that’s the biggest lesson, and if you’re not doing them, you’re missing out.”

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