The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) broke new ground this week, filing a complaint against American Medical Response of Connecticut for firing an emergency medical technician who posted a criticism of her boss on her Facebook profile.
The NLRB’s decision comes at a time when employers are increasing their use of social networking websites to keep an eye on their workers—and prospective employees.
The company in question, an ambulance service provider, accused Dawnmarie Souza of violating a policy that prohibits workers from portraying the company “in any way” on social media websites like Facebook. Then they fired her.
But the NLRB says that the employee’s right to talk about her supervisor is protected speech under the National Labor Relations Act. The Act protects workers’ right to form a union, and bars employers from penalizing workers for talking about working conditions or the possibility of joining a union with their coworkers.
As Lafe Solomon, the NLRB’s acting general counsel, said in The New York Times, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act — whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”
Of course, not all disparaging remarks about employers are considered protected speech. The content has to be related to work, not the employers’ personal lives, and criticisms of the company should be accurate.
If this case tells us anything, it’s that America’s workplaces are changing fast. Let’s hope our labor law can keep up.