There is a growing number of government cases seeking to protect workers using social media to speak out about their jobs. Although the two dozen or so Facebook-related cases have not gone to trial, it is only a matter of time before the courts step in. Can employees (legally) blast their employers online?
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board accused a New York nonprofit of illegally firing five employees after they went on Facebook to criticize working conditions. Federal law allows employees to talk with co-workers about their jobs and working conditions without reprisal. In this case, Hispanics United of Buffalo claims that one employee posted a comment on Facebook pointing fingers at co-workers for not doing enough to help clients. Other employees defended their job performance and in turn, pointed their fingers at the nonprofit for workload and staffing problems.
Hispanics United of Buffalo claims the Facebook flurry constituted harassment of the employee. The NLRB believes that using social media is no different that employees chatting around the water cooler. Is the NLRB right?
The hearing for this case is later in June. It will be interesting if this case moves on or if it settles like a few others have already done (I’m betting that it settles).
Until the courts provide a ruling one way or another, I always remind employees of the following:
Be careful who your “friends” are. The blurry line between professional and personal lives is getting even less clear. Some claim it will completely converge in the near future. I hope not. For now, when using Facebook or other social media for personal use, don’t forget who can view your comments. We’ve all heard stories of employees calling in sick and then posting their day-at-the-beach pictures, forgetting that their manager was one of their “friends” online. That’s just plain dumb. Have a little virtual self-awareness.
Also, keep yourself safe by keeping the negative stuff offline. Whether it is complaining about your lazy co-workers, your micromanaging boss, your cheap employer, or even the horrible coffee in the break room, just leave it all behind. Save those comments for when you’re offline. Until an official ruling comes out, try not make yourself part of some legal precedent.