There’s an interesting case brewing, the first of its kind actually, where the National Labor Relations Board has taken up the case of an employee who trash-talked her supervisor, pretty inappropriately in my opinion, and was summarily fired for doing so. The Labor Relations Board is arguing that a worker should be able to badmouth their boss or company as protected speech. As outlined in the article at the NYTimes, here were some pertinent facts:
- The company was American Medical Response in Connecticut
- The company actually had a policy that bars employees from depicting them “in any way” on Facebook or other social media sites
- It was a union employee, hence representation by the NLRB, but pundits believe this could set precedent for non-union workers as well.
- The company claims the employee in question was discharged based on multiple, serious complaints about her behavior
- The employee used several vulgarities to ridicule her supervisor on Facebook. Co-workers joined in.
- There seems to be a legal distinction as to whether comments are protected only if they are unrelated to work and are defamatory vs a disagreement, and whether or not the comments are factual.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Presumably, following the outcome of this case, you may see your company issue revised or new policies related to the use of Social Media. While I could sit back and play armchair quarterback on this, I could see how this is a relatively complex case with each side having some merit.
Fired? Worker Protection is in Play
On one hand, let’s say the employee just verbalized these complaints about her supervisor and it got back to the company. She probably would not be fired. Now, what if she sent an email to a friend? Still probably not fired. I think part of the problem resides in the ability to prove it was actually her making the statements, which is easier to verify with an authenticated Social Media account, whereas whisper down the lane verbal statements are usually not grounds for dismissal unless it involved insider trading or something more substantial. It could be VERY subjective and a very slippery slope to start trolling the internet for statements from employees and firing them. One could construe practically any “sigh”, sarcasm or complaint as defamatory and in violation of company policy. Where is the line drawn?
What If You Were the Supervisor?
Conversely, I’m just picturing myself as a supervisor several years back before social media took hold. I was highly unpopular in certain circles for actually enforcing work rules that my peers were afraid to, for cutting overtime that was absurdly inefficient, and for disciplines, etc. I had my share of run-ins with employees and shop stewards. But that was usually it. Imagine now, that for all eternity, some disgruntled, immature employee was posting disparaging information about me on the internet – because I did my job while others sought to curry favor with those they were supposed to be managing. That would be highly demoralizing and frustrating and if it were widely known that subordinates could act with complete impunity, wouldn’t that have a chilling effect on supervisors doing their job as opposed to leading by appeasement? I certainly wouldn’t appreciate it if my company allowed this behavior to go unchecked.
What Are Your Thoughts on Facebook Firings?
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