Social Enterprise

New case may prevent employees from getting fired over derogatory Facebook comments

A recent case in Connecticut has the National Labor Relations Board ruling that companies can't fire employees for complaining about their boss on Facebook.

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling suggests companies cannot fire employees for things like complaining about their boss on Facebook. This ruling was in regard to a recent case regarding an employee of American Medical Response (AMR) of Connecticut.  The case has yet to be fully adjudicated, however.

The employee posted a negative remark about her supervisor on her Facebook page, a remark that drew supportive responses from co-workers. AMR said the postings violated its Internet policies, but an NLRB investigation ruled the postings constituted "protected concerted activity" (activity for the mutual aid and protection of employees, like discussions about wages or working conditions). The company is saying that derogatory remarks about a supervisor do not constitute concerted activity.

The issue at hand was that the company's Internet posting policy was too broad. Legal experts are recommending that companies who don't want to be in this same boat should have wording that specifies disciplinary action if the postings related to the company are discriminatory, abusive, insulting, or false. This will be an interesting case to watch.

We all have strong feelings about our freedom to say what we want. No one wants to live in a society where you can't say anything for fear of repercussions. In this woman's mind, she was sharing a thought the same way she would have if she'd been having a conversation at a restaurant with a friend. What if that restaurant conversation were overheard by someone at the next table who happened to be the brother of her boss? Could she still have been fired?

I think the issue is that people need to come to grips with the far-reaching effects of social media. If you think you that you can share something with 700 of your closest friends via Facebook and that none of is going to spread outside your immediate circle, then you're sadly mistaken.

Another thing is I think a lot of people use Facebook as a passive/aggressive tool. It goes like this: If I don't have the nerve to criticize you to your face, then I'll post some thinly veiled remark about you on Facebook. You'll read it, get offended and say something back. Then, I can swear I wasn't talking about you. You might eventually believe me, but the point has been made. (No, I've never done this but I've seen some crazy stuff just by following a thread on friends of friends Facebook pages.)

The other thing is if this case is upheld and she gets her job back and she is free to snipe at the boss all she wants, what kind of atmosphere can she expect to go back into? I don't know many people who could read criticism about themselves and then not hold some kind of bad feelings toward the person who wrote it. (It's like in all those courtroom dramas where an objection is sustained and the judge instructs the jury to disregard a statement. I never understood that. You can't unsee or unhear something.)

I'm sure this is the first of many cases involving social media that we're going to see.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

33 comments
Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The fact that anyone's personal opinion of someone else is considered authoritative enough to cause them harm indicates that the majority of the consumers of this information must be stupider than a box of rocks.

billandl
billandl

The post doesn't make it clear that the NLRB deals with labor union issues Most American states are "at will" which means generally that the employer can get rid of you for any non discriminatory (e.g. race, gender, religion) reason. Other countries see your local solicitor

juantinabroad
juantinabroad

Well what about the border guard in El Paso. He commented on legalizing marijuana and possible effects on the Mexican cartel drug traffickers with a co-worker and was fired for expressing "a position that was not the official departmental position". I know the ACLU is going after the government for this violation of our freedom of speech. Freedom is being eroded left and right.

JamesRL
JamesRL

There was a recent Canadian ruling that stated that the employee had the right to state opinions about their bosses on social networks, but could be fired if an employee made statements that caused the business or work environment harm. The case was regarding employees at a car dealeship who made "disrespectful, damaging and deragatory remarks" including threats and homophobic slurs which created a "hostile work environment". http://www.theprovince.com/Fired+over+Facebook+fuming/3768225/story.html

uwishtoo
uwishtoo

No the company does NOT own my personal time. If I want to go out and get drunk every weekend and pole dance and happen t run into a co worker that doesn't like it - well TOO BAD! Since when did Freedom of Speech end at the workplace door? Now if I go around the company on company time and badmouth my boss then that's not right

uwishtoo
uwishtoo

Did I miss the part of whether the postings were made during work time and from a company computer? That would make a difference in my mind. But if I want to state that I hate my boss or coworkers on my own time then I will do so. Many years ago I had a personal website with some raunchy jokes and some sensual graphics, NOT porn - but to some prudish people it might be to them. Even though this was a personal site I had a comment at the top of each page "THERE ARE SOME NUDITY AND JOKES ON THIS PAGE SO IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED, THEN WELL..... DON'T LOOK" So a co worker who was a self professed "christian" (backstabber) got my site from someone at work and marched into HR to tell them she was offended at my actions and lifestyle (uh google Stephen Hanks and you will see the artwork - it's clearly not porn) and she demanded my termination. HR called me on the carpet and started to read me the riot act and I said uh sorry, but that is my PERSONAL website that I maintain at home on my own time and I didn't invite that person to go look at it and as a matter of fact I didn't WANT her to go look at it. And I walked out of HR ending the discussion. Now, I used to have a program on my computer that alerted me to any IP's trying to gain access into my firewall and lo and behold within a day I got some hits and you guessed it, I tracked the IP back to my company. I printed it all off and went into HR the next morning and handed them the paperwork and told them that obviously me stating the day before that what I do on my personal time in my personal life is my business ad none of theirs as long as I am performing my job - then I told them that if I saw one more instance of them trying to get into my system or commenting on anything I would get a lawyer involved so fast it would make their heads spin. They didn't count on anyone being smart enough with enough resources to find all of this out about them and that was the end of discussion! What I do on my own time and on my own computer is none of anyone's business period!!!!

QAonCall
QAonCall

One could reasonably argue at some point, the person could undermine the authority of the supervisor, to the point that the supervisor could not perform their tasks? If that was the case, whom should get the boot then, the troublemaker, or the supervisor. Most companies offer forums/processes that allow for supervisor feedback. The real question is WHY would you stay someplce you have animosity for? As early as 2-3 years old we tell other the golden rule, and teach children do not write what you do not want other to read? At some point, being grown up, means acting like one. If you use Facebook/social media you have as much responsibility as you do anywhere else in your life. Simple rules in life will help. IOf course READING contractual agreements for employment should be done as well! ;)

sissy sue
sissy sue

to the point where you can't speak your mind about them on your own time and to your own network of acquaintances? Or should you always show loyalty to your employer simply because that's the team you are currently playing on? What loyalty does your employer show you? A good subject with no easy answers....

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