Commentary

NLRB: Employers' Social Media Policies Can Violate Labor Laws

Late last year, the National Labor Relations Board sided with an emergency medical technician, Dawnmarie Souza, who was fired after complaining about her boss on Facebook.

The NLRB argued that Souza's dismissal by the ambulance company, American Medical Response of Connecticut, violated a federal labor law protecting employees' rights to unionize. That law allows employees to discuss salaries, working conditions and other issues that could be covered by union negotiations.

Now the NLRB has issued a 24-page report examining employers' social media policies.

In its report, the agency looks at various incidents involving employer-employee disputes involving social media that came to the NLRB's attention in the last year.

While the NLRB didn't side against employers every time, it found several companies' social media policies unlawful. For instance, the NLRB said in one case that a nonprofit social services provider unlawfully fired five people who discussed high workloads (and other job-related matters) on Facebook. "The Facebook discussion here was a textbook example of concerted activity, even though it transpired on a social network platform," the NLRB wrote.

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At the same time, the NLRB also sided with a restaurant that fired a bartender who used Facebook to complain about his job to a relative. "Responding to her query as to how his night at work had gone, he complained that he hadn't had a raise in five years and that he was doing the waitresses' work without tips," the report states. "He also called the employer's customers 'rednecks' and stated that he hoped they choked on glass as they drove home drunk."

The NLRB found that the post didn't involve the type of "concerted activity" protected by union laws because the Facebook conversation was with a relative, not a coworker. "Although the employee's Facebook posting addressed his terms and conditions of employment, he did not discuss the posting with his coworkers, and none of them responded to the posting," the NLRB wrote.

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