According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), no.
The NLRB has filed a complaint against a Connecticut ambulance company for firing an employee who made critical remarks about her supervisor on Facebook.
Although employees are allowed to vent about working conditions and their employers in general, the specific issue of criticisms made over social media hadn’t yet been considered by the NLRB. But when the American Medical Response of Connecticut fired emergency medical technician Dawnmarie Souza for, among other things, “violating a policy that bars employees from depicting the company ‘in any way’ on Facebook or other social media sites in which they post pictures of themselves,” the NLRB stepped in to file a complaint, claiming that the policy is “overly broad.”
Indeed, the NLRB sees this case as a no-brainer. Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, said, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act [NLRA] — 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.”
The NLRA makes it illegal for employers to take adverse action against employees (whether they are unionized or not) for talking about working conditions, supervisors, and other work-related topics.
The American Medical Response of Connecticut counters that the employee was fired based on “multiple, serious complaints about her behavior” and also for negative postings about a co-worker on Facebook. The latter Facebook postings, according to the company, are not protected by federal law because they involved a co-worker as opposed to management.
What may weigh against the company, though, is another of its policies also being targeted by the NLRB as contrary to federal law — one that prohibits employees from making “disparaging” or “discriminatory” “comments when discussing the company or the employee’s superiors” and “co-workers.”
What do you think about the NLRB’s position? Are Facebook and other social media outlets really the same as the water cooler when it comes to employee speech?