There is probably a case to be made for restricting usage of social networks by employees while they are at work. But all bets are off when an employee goes home. In fact, it is likely that U.S. companies cannot restrict employees from discussing their jobs, their bosses or even their working conditions on social networks at all.
At least that’s what seems to be the result of a recent U.S. federal lawsuit.
The National Labor Relations Board sued an ambulance company in Connecticut after it fired a worker for criticizing her boss on Facebook. The NLRB argued that the ambulance company violated its employee’s freedom of speech when it fired her for the comments.
The case was settled out of court when the company agreed to change its social media policy that forbid workers from disparaging the company or its executives online. The company also removed a provision from the policy that forbid employees from talking about the company at all on social networks without company permission.
The NLRB said such polices violate federal laws that protect employees from disciplinary actions by their companies for discussing wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers.
In this case, the woman employee launched into a profanity-laced tirade against her supervisor on her Facebook page from her home. The status update received support from many of her co-workers. The company fired her shortly afterward, but argued it did so not for the Facebook comments, but because of her poor work performance. The NLRB wasn’t buying that.
This is only one lawsuit so it is difficult to make broad determinations based on it. But many companies have policies that forbid employees from discussing their jobs on social networks. Those companies may soon have to reconsider.
We’re in brand new territory here.
Companies that have a history of poor treatment of employees or those companies with bullying aggressive work environments are discovering that social networks are their worst enemies. But on the other hand, companies should be able to forbid employees from sharing trade secrets, financial information, customer data and other important documents online.
What do you think? Where do employee rights start and company rights end? Should you be able to post anything you want online without fear of losing your job?
Photo by Kathleen Conklin (via Flickr)