Public sector employees, such as those doing a public service like police officers and public education, are entitled to certain rights. Because public sector employers are counted as government workers in some cases, the constitution grants them certain rights that private sector employees do not get to exercise. However, it’s worth noting that some rights of public sector employees, especially free speech and union activity, are limited.
Here’s a better look at employee rights under the public sector banner.
Unlike private sector employees who are considered “at-will” workers who can be fired for any reason outside of race, gender, or sexual orientation, public sector employers cannot discipline, fire or demote employees unless there is true cause. This can include violation of work rules, dishonesty, misconduct or poor performance.
Whether an employee is at-will depends on whether or not the public employee has a contract for guaranteed employment or is covered by a specific law that allows firing only for cause.
The Constitution prevents only governments from interfering with a person’s freedom of speech, not private citizens, businesses or organizations. Government employees enjoy protection for statements they make as citizens on issues of concern for the public, unless that speech hinders the government’s ability to operate.
Public sector employees may not be forced by their employers to make statements that can end up being used against them during criminal investigations. For instance, police officers may refuse to speak with investigators as this is covered under the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. A public employer may end up requiring an employee to answer questions in an internal investigation if the employee is guaranteed that no answers will be used to prosecute them later.
Public sector employees do not have the right to join a union like private sector employees. Private sector employees can have a union negotiate with employers for wages and various working conditions, but public sector workers are not able to. Many states have granted public sector workers the right to join unions, however, and negotiate for certain benefits.
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