In my previous post, I discussed employer social media policies. Left unanswered was the question: What if an employee trashes the company or their boss? Like many other employment issues, this one is complicated.
The source of the complication is Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. Sec. 157), which protects any employee who “engage[s] in … concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” This applies to all employees, not just union employees. Among other things it means that employees are entitled to discuss with each other the terms and conditions of their employment.
In the social media context, this means that employees may express concerns online about their employers if it can be deemed concerted activity regarding work conditions. So if two or three employees go online and start a discussion of how low their wages are and what they can do to increase them, this is protected, even if they say some unkind things about the boss along the way.
Mere rants by one employee, however, may be punishable. For example, in one case a bartender was fired for griping to his stepsister on Facebook about his pay and insulting his customers. Among other things he called the bar’s customers “rednecks” and said he hoped they choked on glass as they drove home drunk.
This a developing area of the law for employers and there is a lot of online commentary about it. For a comprehensive overview of what’s happening, check out a hot-off-the-press report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Have you had any experiences with employee use of social media? ~Amy Stephson