First Amendment Protection in the Workplace
In 1983, Connecticut General Statutes § 31-51q was enacted to protect employee from discipline or discharge based upon the exercise of First Amendment rights in the workplace protected by the state and federal constitutions. An employee exercises First Amendment rights when that person speaks on matters of public concern as a citizen regarding issues of social or political importance. Complaints concerning waste, fraud and abuse made internally and relating to an employer’s conduct could be classified as matters of public concern. Therefore, unlike the whistleblower statute, Connecticut General Statutes § 31-51m, an employee may be protected from retaliation when making an internal complaint regarding a suspected violation of law under § 31-51q. Employees are protected when their speech in the workplace concentrates on public rather than personal matters of concern. An employee who prevails in an action brought under § 31-51q is entitled to damages caused by the discipline or discharge, attorneys’ fee and punitive damages.