Employment terms and contracts

Freedom of speech: What are your rights as an employee?

Your freedom of expression is safeguarded by the constitution, but both as a public and private sector employee there are some restrictions you must respect. Learn more about the legal protections and restrictions for employee speech in Danish workplaces.

As an individual, you have the right to freely express yourself, regardless of whether you are employed in the public sector or a private company. This right is safeguarded by the Danish constitution.

But you are responsible for your statements, and you must respect the restrictions of both the legislation and in your employment relationship.

If your statements are disruptive or defamatory, you may face prosecution under the Danish Criminal Code. And if you break your duty of confidentiality or loyalty, you can be dismissed by your employer.

Here you can read about the framework and limitations that apply to your freedom of expression, as a public and private employee respectively.

Freedom of speech for employees in the public sector

As a public employee, you have extensive freedom of speech, because it is in society's interest that you and other public employees can participate in the public debate with your knowledge.

The framework for public employees' freedom of expression is described in the Ministry of Justice's set of instruction from 2016.

See the instructions at justitsministeriet.dk (in Danish)

However, your freedom of expression is only protected when you speak as a private individual, and you cannot speak on behalf of your employer without approval.

When you speak as a private person, you must neither have permission nor inform your employer about your statements afterwards.

However, when speaking out, there are four basic rules that you must respect:

  1. Speak on your own behalf:It is your responsibility to make it clear that you are speaking as a private individual and not on behalf of your employer. It is particularly important that you make it clear if the recipient may think that you are speaking on behalf of your employer because you are, for example, in business attire or using your work email.
  2. Comply with the duty of confidentiality:You must ensure that your statements do not contravene the rules on confidentiality. For example, you must not pass on confidential information about private individuals' course of illness, financial situation, or public financial interests. In special cases, as a public employee, you have the right and duty to break your duty of confidentiality – e.g. in the case of illegal administration.
  3. No statements that violate the peace or act as defamation:As a public employee, you, like all other citizens, must not utter statements that violate the peace, defamations or unreasonably rude statements. You may not speak mockingly or ridicule, but you may use satire and sarcasm. It is therefore a delicate balance that you must be careful to observe.
  4. Only provide correct information:You are jointly responsible for the correctness of the information you provide. It is illegal to provide false information.

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Although you as a private person have the right to express yourself critically, you should always consider whether you can start by raising your criticism internally.

Your employer cannot punish you for expressing yourself critically, but this can lead to a breach of your trust and cooperation.

Freedom of expression for private sector employees

As a private person, your freedom of expression is safeguarded by the constitution, and you can therefore freely express yourself as a private person about, for example, politics and other matters of society.

When it comes to your place of employment, you are, on the other hand, limited by your duty of loyalty, confidentiality and the law on trade secrets.

Private employees are to a greater extent obliged to protect and secure their employer's reputation. As a private employee, you must therefore be particularly careful with:

  • Speaking negatively about your place of employment and its activities.
  • Publishing confidential material such as technical drawings, descriptions, models, budgets, customer lists, sales promotion, etc.
  • To speak on behalf of your employer without the agreement of your manager.

If you discover illegal conditions at your employer, you can try to draw attention to the problem internally, and if that does not help, you may be entitled to publish what you know. The more obvious the illegal conditions are, the greater the right you have to make them public.

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