Once again the social media beast rears its head in the employment arena. Just when we thought controlling employee use of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other blogs during working time was the worst concern, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has entered the fray. In a recent filing, the NLRB took issue with the firing of an employee due to a series of Facebook postings related to the employee's supervisor.
It all started with a customer complaint about the employee. The employee's supervisor asked the employee to prepare an incident report regarding the complaint. The employee requested a union representative be present for the meeting, and the supervisor allegedly responded by threatening the employee with discipline. The employee then went home that afternoon and posted a series of negative comments about the supervisor on Facebook, triggering a series of co-worker comments, and then even more negative comments from the employee. Not surprisingly, the employee was discharged a few weeks later.
The employee turned to the NLRB and filed an unfair labor practice charge. The NLRB's investigation found the Facebook postings to be protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRB also focused its inquiry on the company policies prohibiting employees from making negative comments about the company or its management in internet postings. The NLRB found that this policy unlawfully violated employees' rights under the NLRA.
This complaint is set for hearing in early 2011. All employers should stay tuned to this matter. Keep in mind that all employers are covered by the NLRA regardless of whether a unionized workforce exists at your company. If the NLRB determines a social media policy prohibiting disparging comments about a company violates the NLRA, such a ruling will effect all employers with policies of this type.