Feds: Trashing an Employer on Facebook is Protected Speech

Photo (cc) by 111 Emergency

A Connecticut woman who made disparaging remarks about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page was terminated by her employer, citing a company policy that prohibits discussing company business on the Internet.

Now the feds are weighing in, saying that what people say about their employers is protected free speech under labor laws.

From the National Labor Relations Board press release regarding the incident (PDF):

A complaint issued by the NLRB’s Hartford regional office on October 27 alleges that an ambulance service illegally terminated an employee who posted negative remarks about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page. The complaint also alleges that the company, American Medical Response of Connecticut, Inc., illegally denied union representation to the employee during an investigatory interview, and maintained and enforced an overly broad blogging and internet posting policy.

When asked by her supervisor to prepare an investigative report concerning a customer complaint about her work, the employee requested and was denied representation from her union, Teamsters Local 443. Later that day from her home computer, the employee posted a negative remark about the supervisor on her personal Facebook page, which drew supportive responses from her co-workers, and led to further negative comments about the supervisor from the employee. The employee was suspended and later terminated for her Facebook postings and because such postings violated the company’s internet policies.

An NLRB investigation found that the employee’s Facebook postings constituted protected concerted activity, and that the company’s blogging and internet posting policy contained unlawful provisions, including one that prohibited employees from making disparaging remarks when discussing the company or supervisors and another that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the internet without company permission. Such provisions constitute interference with employees in the exercise of their right to engage in protected concerted activity.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for January 25, 2011.

An attorney representing the company said that the company stands by its rules that prohibit employees discussing the company on the web.

What do you think – should employees be able to trash their employers on the Internet? Granted, it’s probably not a great career move, but do companies have the right to fire you for it?

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