Rural Water - Quarter 3, 2014 - (Page 28)

MANAGING YOUR WATER SYSTEM Employee Rights and Their Limits BY GARY HANSON, JD, STUMBO HANSON, LLP EMPLOYMENT LAW CONTINUES to be a hot topic, with employee claims and lawsuits against their employers at all-time highs. The cases reported in the news generally involve major employers, but most of the rules apply to all employers - large and small. This article will cover a couple of areas of particular interest to cities and rural water districts. "Freedom of Speech" This topic is of special interest because the rules governing governmental entities, like cities and RWDs, are different than they are for private businesses. This can be very confusing for board members and council members whose experiences lie primarily in the private sector where free speech rules don't protect employees. To make matters worse, the answer to most of these free speech questions is not what you would expect. We are all generally familiar with the right of all Americans under the First Amendment to the Constitution to exercise "freedom of speech". But that is not really what the Constitution says. It actually says that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." This is interpreted broadly to apply not just to passing laws, but to all actions of government, including managing employees and contractors. 28 * Third Quarter 2014 The Fourteenth Amendment extended this right to the states so municipalities are subject to the same rules as the federal government. So, consider this example: An employee of a small Kansas company posts to his Facebook page: "I hate my job. Company X is a lousy place to The Constitutional rights of public employees make employment decisions more complicated than those in the private sector. Public employees have the right to free speech, as long as the matters are those of real public concern, and not personal insults. work. My boss only works to help his office pals, and never listens to anyone else. With all the complaints we get about him and the quality problems he causes, I don't know why anyone buys anything from us. I can't wait to get a new job." So what happens? This employee may be looking for a new job sooner than he thought; especially if his boss finds out about this post from his Facebook friends. This "speech" is not protected by the Constitution or in most instances, anything else. This employee has gripes about his employer, but he is being disloyal. Even if everything he said is true, in most cases the employer has every right to terminate him as a result. But change the facts for this example: An RWD employee who works at the water treatment plant posts on her Facebook page: "I hate working at this place. My boss only does things to help out his friends and never listens to anyone else. Whenever an employee tells him what we need to do to fix the quality problems we are having, he ignores it. I don't know why the board of directors won't help when he is acting like an idiot." This employee also has gripes, and she is being every bit as disloyal to her employer as the employee working for the

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Water - Quarter 3, 2014

From the President
Dressing Your Entire Utility for Success
Go the Extra Mile
Customer Service: Getting Along With Mildred
Changing of the Guard in Public Works
Employee Rights and Their Limits
Professional Status Is Achievable…Isn’t It?
Power Up the Board Retreat
Cleared for Takeoff! Flight Plan for the Strategic Plan
The Safe Drinking Water Act’s 40th Anniversary
Regulatory Update
Throwing My Loop
Index to advertisers/
From the CEO

Rural Water - Quarter 3, 2014