Facebook has been a somewhat frequent topic on our Greenbelt employment law blog. This is because employment questions have arisen in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area about whether employees should be allowed to use social media at work, and whether employers should be allowed to use Facebook to screen current and potential employees.
At issue in a current case is something that many of us may be guilty of: complaining about one's employer on Facebook. That case stems from a woman who vented on Facebook about one of her co-workers who was unfairly calling fellow employees lazy. Several of the woman's co-workers commented on the post, saying that they agreed with her and they are hard-workers. When they returned to work, their employer fired them, saying they had violated the organization's anti-harassment policy.
The National Labor Relations Board has sided with the employees in this case, arguing that the workers are protected under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act that establishes workers' rights to act collectively to improve conditions. Typically, this act covers things like striking and picketing, but it does technically apply to all "concerted activity."
The NLRB thus found that although using Facebook as a means for concerted activity and communication might be somewhat novel, it is nonetheless protected under the law.
In essence, the NLRB said that employees' rights to communicate with each other about their working conditions should be upheld no matter the medium used for communication.
While this ruling is interesting, it is important to note that this still is a very limited protection. In general, it remains risky to speak negatively in public about one's employer or place of employment. In order for the National Labor Relations Act to apply to a Facebook post, a certain number of workers must be involved and the conversation must fall within certain topics. However, the effects of social media on employment law continue to evolve and it is wise to seek legal counsel about any disputes that arise involving these issues.
Source: Slate, "Go Ahead, Complain About Your Job on Facebook," Josh Eidelson, Jan. 3, 2013
- To learn more about your rights in the workplace, please visit our Metro Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia law firm's Employment Law website.