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Company Social Media Policies Challenged

November 12th, 2010 · 1 Comment

If your company’s social media policy forbids employees from discussing work or the company on social media sites, it was most likely just overturned by the National Labor Relations Board.

Background story by the New York Times

The National Labor Relations Board regulates unions and employees who may be able to join a union.  Unfortunately that does not apply to anyone with “Manager”, or “Supervisor” in their title, which excludes a great many knowledge workers such as “Community Manger”.

NLRB believes that companies don’t have the right to tell employees  that they can’t talk about the place where  they work in social media.  I think this will cause a lot of social media policies to be rewritten in short order.

The NLRB ruled this week that an employee of an ambulance company who disparaged her boss on Facebook was wrongfully terminated.  The NLRB ruled that Facebook is in effect like the watercooler at work.  The speech is protected because an employer cannot terminate an employee for talking about working conditions.  The NLRB ruled that if multiple employees join a discussion about working conditions then that becomes protected speech.  This rule is designed to protect union organizers from being fired for talking about working conditions.

This ruling is fairly narrow, but is mainly against the ambulance company because their employee guidelines forbid discussing the company “in any way” on social media sites.  This violates the employees rights to protected discussions of working conditions.  So if the employee had said something about the boss but no other employee had joined the conversation, then the NLRB might not be involved.  Which makes for a messy issue- how can you know that no other employee read the Facebook post, even if no one responded?  Based upon Facebook’s EdgeRank you can’t even know who was likely to have seen it.  So it gets very messy.

Another interesting issue is the fact the that in this case the woman who was fired referred to her boss as “a 17″ which is code for a mental patient.  This is clearly disparaging, but according to the NLRB that was secondary to the conversation the workers were having about the workplace.  This matters because in their firing of the woman the company noted that she had made “disparaging remarks about the company on Facebook.”

However there is one thing that I think is abundantly clear; NLRB believes that companies don’t have the right to tell employees  that they can’t talk about the place where  they work in social media.  I think this will cause a lot of social media policies to be rewritten in short order.

If you’re having  difficulties with your social media policy contact 1 Good Reason for help.

Give me 1 Good Reason why your restrictive company’s social media policy doesn’t have to be changed immediately?

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