Finance News & Insights

Employees fired for griping on Facebook: Was it legal?

Everybody has one of those days. But when this employee chose to blow off some steam on Facebook, it got him and four co-workers fired. Was that company’s move legal?

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t tweet, post or LinkedIn these days. Social networking is here to stay. And while some employers limit or even prohibit whether it’s done on the job, they can’t do much about what you say after hours …

… or can they? One employer recently decided it could and when it didn’t like what it saw, it fired five of its people.

Take a look at the facts of this case and the historic ruling that went a long with it.

The facts

An employee jumped online after a hard day at the office. This person e-complained about a co-worker who accused him of slacking on the job and not pulling his own weight. Soon, several other co-workers joined in the gripe session, even calling the other individual some less-than-kind names.

When the company got wind of it, it fired all five of the employees in the thread, saying they violated its cyber-bullying policy.

One of those employees lodged a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  And recently the board issued a ruling – the first of its kind.

The ruling

The NLRB ruled it was illegal for the company to fire the employees. The judge ordered the company to reinstate all five people, with back pay.

So what made the move illegal? Employees have the right to talk about “their terms and conditions of their employment” on social networking sites, like Facebook.

And while these employees complained about their co-worker in their Facebook posts, because the thread discussed employees’ “job performance and staffing levels,” it was not a considered fireable offense.

The company made a mistake here and had to make it right.

The implications

Yes, this is the first ruling of its kind on Facebook by the NLRB. But don’t expect it to be the last.

And while your company can limit how these tools are used on company time, you have to tread very carefully when it comes to disciplining staffers for their cyber-exploits.

Stay tuned. We’ll keep you on top of the latest developments on this new and growing management issue.

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