The rise in popularity of social media has spurred heated employment debates regarding free speech rights, and what can and cannot be said about your employer on Facebook and Twitter. As the debate has grown, a federal agency is asking employers to revise policies that limit what their employees can voice on Internet forums, reports Bay Area employment lawyer Eric Grover. There have been several rulings by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finding that workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution whether the conversation occurs at the office or on Facebook, as the New York Times first reported.
In the past, employers have created policies that discourage comments that portray the company in a negative way, or publicly discuss company matters. In addition, many employees were prohibited from talking about managers, co-workers or the company itself. Violations of these policies could lead to termination. In several cases, the NLRB also ordered that workers fired for their social media posts be reinstated. In all, the NLRB has essentially prohibited companies from adopting broad social media policies which ban “disrespectful” or “critical” comments or posts against the employer. Any company policy that hinders workers from exercising their right to communicate with each other with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions is deemed illegal. But employees must be careful, as the Board also stated that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet.
California and Illinois have also taken steps to protect the social media rights of employees, becoming the fifth and sixth states to prohibit companies from asking employees and job applicants for their social media account passwords. “Drawing clear lines regarding the legality of social media posts is difficult as they often need to be considered on a case by case basis, ” says Grover. “The NLRB’s mandates concerning social media in the workplace are evolving, which makes it difficult for employees to know whether they are within their legal rights.””It would likely be in employees’ best interests to refrain altogether from discussing work-related matters on the Internet, in order to further protect themselves. With the legal landscape changing daily, it’s better to keep all conversations off the Web,” advised Grover.