A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board raises interesting questions about the difference between the legal right to post anything in social media and the practical implications of such a posting.
The NLRB ruled that an employee of an emergency response company in Connecticut had been improperly fired for posting comments about her company on a Facebook page. The company has a policy that prohibits comments depicting the company “in any way” on social media sites in which employees post pictures of themselves.
The NLRB ruled: “..whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”
Under the technical rules of the labor board, employers are prohibited from disciplining workers for discussing working conditions or unionization. According to the articles, this is the first case in which the NLRB has stepped in to argue that workers’ criticisms of their bosses or companies on a social networking site are generally a protected activity and that employers would be violating the law by punishing workers for such statements. This specific case will be heard by an administrative law judge early next year.
The NLRB ruling then prompted at least one major law firm to send out and advisory to its clients about the ruling so that companies could be aware of the new rules. I’m sure others will jump in the fray.
Based upon our experience, the issue won’t be settled by one ruling nor will it open a flood gates of employees criticizing employers on Facebook and other sites. For one it already happens. This maybe the first time that a case made it through the NLRB.
I’m reminded of the practice (still going on, no doubt) of companies buying up domain names with the endings “company s*cks.com” and other derivatives. This was an effort to keep unions and others from blatant attacks against the organization.
And notwithstanding the NLRB, why shouldn’t organizations develop social media policies for employees? Maybe they can’t say, “Do this and you’ll get reprimanded or fired.” But we suggest it is appropriate to set transparent policies and procedures. They should be positioned to make it clear general corporate codes of social media conduct are in the company’s (and hence the employees’) best interest. We also know that there are differences between the water cooler and the social media.
What’s your view on this?