Labor Relations Board Rules on Employees’ Online Activity

The American National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employers must scale back their vigilance over online posts by their employees.  As Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites become more popular, firings and reprimands over posts that paint employers in a negative light are becoming commonplace.  The New York Times reports that many companies have social media policies explicitly forbidding employees to publicly denounce the company, sometimes with serious consequences for violations.

However, the NLRB has been releasing a series of rulings and advisories that discourage such behaviour by employers.  The agency has issued orders forcing the re-hiring of some workers terminated over their online behaviour, as well as advising some of the country’s largest companies to rewrite their social media policies.

The board’s chairman, Mark G. Pearce, says that all the NLRB is doing is applying traditional protections to new forms of expression.  Federal law has protected the rights of employees to discuss their workplaces for some time.  As Pearce says, “many view social media as the new water cooler.”

Employees don’t have free reign online, however.  The rulings forbid companies from using their social media policies to justify the termination of employees using the internet to discuss possible wage increases or poor working conditions.  Concerted activities by employees seeking to work together to improve their workplaces are acceptable.  However, companies may still pursue a single person acting vindictively online.  Offensive posts, therefore, or just a venting of frustrations by a lone employee, remain fair grounds for firings.

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