Version of published in PR Week, November 19, 2010
As you may have seen reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board - the independent federal agency that oversees collective bargaining issues - is claiming that a Connecticut ambulance company's social media policy was wrongly invoked to terminate an employee who complained about her supervisor in a Facebook post.
While the case is getting a fair amount of media attention because of its novelty, I want to put the matter in some perspective and also share with you some of the thinking that goes into the guidance we at PulsePoint provide to companies developing their own social media policy.
Three things make this case worth paying attention to:
- The NLRB's legal theory that the employer's Internet policy went too far by prohibiting disparaging remarks and by requiring the company's permission before saying anything about the company.
- The potential application of that theory to all workplaces, not just those with labor union issues.
- The extension of the employer's Internet policy to private use, at home, on the employee's own time.
According to a press release the NLRB recently issued describing the case, the employee had been the subject of a customer complaint, and was angry at her supervisor for not allowing her Teamsters representative help her craft her response. After she got home that evening, the employee aired the grievance on her Facebook page, which generated supportive responses that in turn generated still more negative comments from the employee.