The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is taking up the case of a car dealership employee who was fired after criticizing his employer on Facebook.
The complaint states that a salesman at Knauz BMW in Lake Bluff, Illinois posted photos and comments on Facebook criticizing his management’s choice of hot dogs and bottled water for refreshments at a promotional event. The employee implied these snacks were too low-brow for a BMW dealership and that the choice might adversely affect sales and commissions.
His bosses asked him to remove the Facebook postings, which he did, but he was later fired anyway; the NLRB maintains that this termination was illegal under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which prohibits employers from taking adverse action against employees (whether they are unionized or not) for talking about working conditions, supervisors, and other work-related topics.
Dealer magazine spoke with a lawyer for the dealership, which maintains the employee was actually fired for posting “a picture of an accident involving another salesperson while on a test drive with a customer that occurred at an adjacent dealership owned by the same company as the one he was employed by.”
In the past couple years, the NLRB has stepped up its efforts to keep the space of social media as a kind of virtual water cooler where employees are free to discuss their terms and conditions of employment. As you might recall, the NLRB also filed a complaint on behalf of an ambulance company employee in Connecticut who was also fired for making disparaging comments about her supervisor on Facebook; that case recently ended in a settlement that included the company’s agreement to stop disciplining employees for Facebook postings.
If the car dealership case isn’t settled in the meantime, it will be heard by an administrative law judge on July 21.
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?