If you work for a major company, there’s a good shot somewhere in your employee handbook is a prohibition against blogging, Facebooking or Twittering about your employer. Most companies take a dim view of employees taking their internal grievances to the masses, no doubt distrusting how quickly viral news spreads around the web. Of course, the flip side is that what employees do on their own time with their own computer is free speech, and that’s the heart of a major employee rights case before the courts.
According to the New York Times, an employee at an ambulance company had an issue with her supervisor, which she voiced on Facebook. She was subsequently fired, with the Facebook posts being cited as one of the reasons. But here’s the twist: since other employees also commented on the post, her lawyers are arguing it was no different from everyone talking after work about their boss.
It’s a fascinating argument. Essentially they’re looking to treat a virtual gathering with the same protections as a physical one. The National Labor Relations Board has taken a very strong stance on it. From the NYT article:
Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, said, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act — 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.”
That act gives workers a federally protected right to form unions, and it prohibits employers from punishing workers — whether union or non-union — for discussing working conditions or unionization. The labor board said the company’s Facebook rule was “overly broad” and improperly limited employees’ rights to discuss working conditions among themselves.
This is definitely a story to watch; it could have big implications for how companies handle social media in the future! If anyone’s a labor law expert out there and wants to weigh in, please leave a comment. I’m not a lawyer, the closest I’ve been is living with a law student for three years, so an actual legal opinion would be great! And if you’re a layman like me, share your thoughts…should your employer be able to fire you for Facebook posts? Do you censor yourself if you talk about work online?