The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled in favor of five non-union workers who were fired for discussing problems with a co-worker on Facebook—essentially giving social media a big “like” where airing employee complaints is concerned.
Last year, an employee of Hispanics United of Buffalo, a non-profit agency, complained on Facebook about a co-worker’s criticism. The post was made on a non-workday, and then other co-workers responded and added their own frustrations with the co-worker in question.
The subject of the postings saw them and forwarded the information to a supervisor, who terminated the five employees pursuant to the organization’s social media policy, which prohibits the cyberbullying of co-workers.
One of the fired employees took the case to the NLRB and a judge recently found in the employees’ favor, finding that discussing their working conditions on Facebook was within their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA 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.
The terminated employees are to be reinstated and given back pay.
The outcome of this case shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to faithful LegalZoom readers, who know that the NLRB has previously taken up the case of a car dealership employee who was fired after criticizing his employer on Facebook as well as that of an ambulance company employee in Connecticut who was also fired for making disparaging comments about her supervisor on Facebook. The NLRB has consistently supported the idea of social media as a kind of virtual water cooler where employees are free to discuss their terms and conditions of employment.
While a little discretion on the part of employees won’t hurt, employers take note—the NLRB’s position on Facebook-related firings is clear. They dislike.