Post Classifieds

Know your social media rights

By David Leos
On November 19, 2010

Do you have the right to badmouth your boss on Facebook? The Federal Government thinks you do.On Nov. 8, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accused a Connecticut ambulance company, American Medical Response (AMR), of illegally firing an employee, Dawnmarie Souza, for bad mouthing them and her supervisor via Facebook and will fight them in court early next year.

AMR accused their terminated employee of violating a company policy that prohibits them from portraying the company in an unfavorable light on social media sites, including Facebook.

The NLRB is a federal agency that is charged with conducting investigations on unfair employment practices; they are like the FBI for all employees under management.

This is the first case, nationally, where the NLRB argued in favor of employees' having the right to say what they want, whether at home online or around the water cooler.

The NLRB accused AMR of writing and maintaining unlawful policies on blogging and Internet use (which includes social media); and for creating unfair standards of conduct.

According to the NLRB, prohibiting employees (union or non-union) from engaging in "concerted" activities such as these are in strict violation of federal rights granted in the workplace for the purposes of collective bargaining, protection or other mutual aid.

Lefe Solomon, General Coucil for NLRB, stated on Fox News, "Employees can talk amongst themselves about terms and conditions of employment."

According to a report by the New York Times, Souza logged into her Facebook page after she was sent home for disciplinary reasons, she later wrote from her personal laptop, "Looks like I'm getting some time off. Love how the company allows a 17 to be a supervisor." A 17 being a coded description at AMR for psychiatric patient.

These laws that protect an employee's right to vent are not across the board. If Souza had commented on her boss' sexual preference or made a threat against him, for example, that would not have been protected and her, the NLRB would have deemed termination justifiable.

So what does this mean for us? Many would speculate that pending the outcome of this case, people's rights to free speech might be further protected online. For others, rights may become impinged upon, as most people would not want to be publically humiliated on Facebook, and would not support protections for people who reserve the right to do so.

The hearing, to take place before an administrative law judge, is set for Jan. 25.

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