It won’t take much time on a “funniest of Facebook” site like Lamebook or Failbook to find someone railing about their boss or coworkers, forgetting that they had friended them during some Friday night booze-a-thon a few months ago. The results are predictable – the beleaguered parties see the posts and hilarity ensues.
Although it most likely remains a questionable decision to vent your workplace frustrations on Facebook, score one for those wishing to express their problems via social media.
Should employers have the right to discipline employees based on social media posts? Or do you think that an employee has a right to post what they want on their own time? Let us know in the comments.
The National Labor Relations Board has ruled in the favor of 5 New York workers that were fired because of comments they made on Facebook. The judge in the case decided that the social media communications of the workers were protected by the National Labor Relations Act, which allows for employees to freely discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.
The employees in question work for Hispanics United of Buffalo, a non-profit that provides social services for the poor in the area. They coordinate housing, deal with domestic violence victims and operate a food pantry.
In October 2010, one employee posted the following status on Facebook –
LC, a coworker, feels that we don’t help our clients enough at HUB I about had it! My fellow coworkers how do u feel?
She posted it from her home computer, on her own time.
That one post triggered a flurry of comments, in which many of her fellow employees joined in the fray. According to court documents, one employee commented –
Tell her to come do mt [my] fucking job n c if I don’t do enough, this is just dum
Another posted a more in depth response –
Lol. I know! I think it is difficult for someone that its not at HUB 24-7 to really grasp
and understand what we do ..I will give her that. Clients will complain especially when they ask for services we don’t provide, like washer, dryers stove and refrigerators, I’m
proud to work at HUB and you are all my family and I see what you do and yes, some things may fall thru the cracks, but we are all human 🙂 love ya guys
The woman at the heart of the post, LC, eventually joined in the Facebook conversation herself. After commenting, she complained to her boss, the HUB executive director. Text messages indicate that LC told the executive director that the Facebook discussion participants should be fired or at least disciplined.
A couple of days later, the executive director did decide to terminate all of the people who participated in the Facebook discussion (except for her personal secretary). The fired employees eventually took their complaint to the NLRB.
The official ruling states that their criticisms of an employee’s performance are protected by law –
Employees have a protected right to discuss matters affecting their employment amongst themselves. Explicit or implicit criticism by a co-worker of the manner in which they are performing their jobs is a subject about which employee discussion is protected by Section 7. That is particularly true in this case, where at least some of the discriminatees had an expectation that LC might take her criticisms to management. By terminating the five discriminatees for discussing LC’s criticisms of HUB employees’ work, Respondent violated Section 8(a)(1)
The Judge ordered HUB to rehire the 5 employees and to give them back pay, as their original termination had been unlawful.
It’s unclear just how important this decision really is when it comes to free speech and social media. But one thing is for sure – there is now an official precedent stating that employees can discuss their working conditions on Facebook and other social media sites.
That still doesn’t mean that it’s always the wisest of actions, however. Employees and Employers that feel miffed can definitely find ways other than termination to enact retribution for certain social media posts. Maybe the best thing you can do is double-check those privacy settings.
Do you think that Facebook or Twitter is a proper place to vent workplace frustrations? Let us know what you think.