Social Media and Employee Rights

In Employment Law by Coolidge Wall

The rise of social media in the last several years has led to a pattern of people pouring out every detail of their personal lives – from the mundane to the potentially damaging – for the world to see. Understandably, this has led to a variety of clashes with employers over issues ranging from social media use at work, to posting of disparaging comments, to workers’ compensation fraud. A recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) should give employers throughout the United States a moment of pause.

While employees who disparage their employers online might expect that this is an offense warranting termination, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) has long placed strict regulations on employer retaliation for concerted employee activity, even in shops that are not unionized. Recently, the NLRB has found that online postings discussing working conditions can constitute protected concerted activity under the NLRA. For example, the NLRB found a Connecticut company had engaged in an unfair labor practice when it fired an employee for posting negative comments about her supervisor on Facebook. According to the Board, this amounted to retaliating against an employee for engaging in protected concerted activity.

Other similar cases have since come before the Board with varying results. The law is still far from clear on this issue, but employers should err on the side of caution. Overly broad social media policies have been frequently cited as unfair labor practices, so careful wording in these policies – as opposed to the broad any-and-all language that was previously the norm – is important. Our employment law attorneys can help concerned Ohio employers avoid allegations of unfair labor practices while still keeping a handle on employee conduct.