Yes, Your Boss Can Tell You What Beer To Drink.

by George Barron

There was a pretty famous case a few years ago that combined two of my favorite things – employment law and beer. It involved the question of whether an employee has free speech rights at work, or after work, that would protect his job. I may have the players wrong, but the basic idea was this:

A guy (we’ll call him Sam Adams for fun) worked for Anheiser Busch in the local bottling plant. One weekend Sam’s boss happened to be in the neighborhood where Sam lived and stopped to say hello. Sam was on the porch sipping a Coors Light. They talked for a few minutes then the boss went on his way.

As you may know, Anheiser Busch (makers of Budweiser, Bud Light and a bunch of other yellow liquids they call “beers”)  and Coors (makers of Coors, Coors Light, and a bunch of other yellow liquids they call “beers”) are competitors in the enormous “yellow, beer-like liquid” market in the United States.

When Monday came, Sam started his shift at the plant and soon got a call to go to the office.  The boss said “Sam, you were drinking a Coors on Saturday when I stopped at your house weren’t you?” Sam admitted that he was. The boss said “I will not tolerate disloyalty – you’re fired!”

Sam sued. He argued that he had the right to drink any brand of beer that he chose. The court agreed – but also held that Anheiser Busch had the right to fire Sam for any reason – even a stupid reason.

Most of us do not have a right to “free speech” at work. The Constitution only applies to the government and its agents. The police cannot arrest you because you say something they don’t like – for example, they can’t arrest you for cursing. But if your boss is not a state actor, you have no right to free speech at work.

However, if your boss is a state actor – if you work for a school district, local government, etc. – you have more protections including including a right to speak and not get fired – sometimes.

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