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Do We Have the Rights to Talk about Work or our Boss on Social Media?

It is not new to hear people got fired because of their updates on social networking sites. In one extreme case, a man got fired even for his random thoughts posted on Facebook. So, is it legal for companies to fire employees because of their updates on social media sites?

Employees have the rights to discuss face-to-face on “protected concerted activity” as outlined by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). For example, employees can talk about their wages and work conditions with co-workers. According to The Lodging Magazine (2013), the answer to whether employees have the rights to talk about work or their boss on social media sites depends on whether the employee’s update is considered as protected concerted activity.

The article in The Lodging Magazine reported two cases with the published decisions from NLRB. One case involves in an employee’s sarcastic comments about the employer. This employee is not protected because NLRB believes that the comments were made “solely by the employee without any discussion with other employees.” In the other case, an employee responded to a co-worker’s criticisms of her job performance as well as the performance of other co-workers. This employee was fired, but NLRB ruled in favor of the terminated employee because the employee’s behavior is “a call to group action that related to their working conditions.”

Even though it is noted that the decision made by the NLRB may turn out to be invalid because the Supreme Court by the Administration is still pending on its decision on whether the NLRB “lacks a quorum and is unable to conduct business,” employers are advised to keep such decisions of NLRB in mind. In the end, the article lists six suggestions for employers’ considerations (direct quotes):

  • Eliminate policies that require employees to maintain confidentiality over wages, bonuses, or commissions.
  • Review social media policies for non-specific terms that need further definition or stricter language.
  • Adjust overly broad language that prohibits employees from discussing company policies, schedules, safety, dress codes, work assignments, other staff, or management.
  • Eliminate or change language that prohibits posting of company logos, company name, identification of employee with the company, etc.
  • Where legitimate issues are involved, define information that the company considers confidential (private employee data, guest information, strategic marketing plans, financial particulars).
  • Consider a disclaimer at the end of the social media policy that makes clear that the policy is not intended to restrict an employee’s Section Seven Rights under the NLRA.

My suggestion to individual users is to think before posting any negative comments about work or their boss. They may ask themselves: besides venting my feelings about work or my boss on social media sites, how does my update help solve the issue? Are there other places for me to vent my feelings? Are there other places I can seek solutions (e.g., the HR Office, the corporate HR Manager, the NLRB, etc.)?

I agree to the article that managers need to revisit their companies’ policy. Ideally, I believe that the best solution to “stop” employees from bad-mouthing the company or their supervisors is to nurture an organizational culture that value employee feedback. If employees know their employer listens to them and shows genuine interest to them, they tend to be more open to their managers about their feelings and thoughts. If their issues are solved, they will not need to vent their feelings on social media sites any more. What do you think?

References:
Ryan, Andria, & Lominack, Reybun. (2013, March). Word to the wise: the National Labor Relations Board is weighing in on social media communications and employee rights; Here’s what hoteliers need to know. The Lodging Magazine (The official magazine of The American Hotel + Lodging Association), p. 20-21.

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