If the U.S. Army isn't that strict about what its soldiers can say on social media channels (as long as no lives are on the line), then perhaps you should be a little lenient with your employees too. At least that's the impression one might get from the National Labor Relations Board, which has accused an ambulance company of illegally firing an employee based on something she said on Facebook.
In a recent press release, the Board explained:
A complaint issued by the NLRB's Hartford regional office on October 27 alleges that an ambulance service illegally terminated an employee who posted negative remarks about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page. The complaint also alleges that the company, American Medical Response of Connecticut, Inc., illegally denied union representation to the employee during an investigatory interview, and maintained and enforced an overly broad blogging and internet posting policy.
When asked by her supervisor to prepare an investigative report concerning a customer complaint about her work, the employee requested and was denied representation from her union, Teamsters Local 443. Later that day from her home computer, the employee posted a negative remark about the supervisor on her personal Facebook page, which drew supportive responses from her co-workers, and led to further negative comments about the supervisor from the employee. The employee was suspended and later terminated for her Facebook postings and because such postings violated the company's internet policies.
Based on the NLRB's position, the Facebook postings are considered "protected concerted activity". The ambulance service's Internet policy, the organization says, contained unlawful provisions, prohibiting employees from making disparaging remarks when discussing the company without company permission.
The story picked up steam after the New York Times latched on, and is now drawing a great deal of attention throughout the Blogosphere and controversy regarding free speech.
It's not hard to understand the logic of the company in its actions. You've got to protect your brand, but it looks like in the long run, firing an employee may due more damage to the brand than any negative remark about a supervisor could've done. It's certainly gained a great deal more attention.
More importantly, for the rest of us, it places the need for the right corporate social media policy heavily in the spotlight. Of course we've yet to see the outcome of the case, but when there's even the threat of legal action, you know this is something you're going to have to put a great deal of thought into.
A hearing for the case is supposed to take place in late January. As Curt Hopkins at ReadWriteWeb notes, the outcome could have big implications on how such situations are addressed in the future.
What do you think? Should this person have been fired? Let us know in the comments.