As racial tensions rise in the United States, government employers, like their private-sector counterparts, have several legitimate interests in distancing themselves from an employee’s opinion, especially when an employee’s opinion is discriminatory. For example, employers have an interest in shielding other employees from hostile work environments and protecting themselves from liability for a hostile work environment.
Municipalities, in particular, have a compelling interest in regulating police officers’ speech. Repugnant police officer views, if published, could ostensibly interfere with a police department’s ability to effectively or efficiently deliver public safety services to the city. The law must balance the city’s compelling interests in public safety, however, with a police officer’s right to free speech. The rapidly evolving pace of technological advances that enable instantaneous social media communication, and create records of online speech, exacerbate the need for an accurate balance.