According to a recent article, if you want to criticize your employer online, you are legally entitled to it.  Well not technically, but according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), “workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook.”  The NLRB ruling came after the NLRB found that several employees had been unlawfully terminated from their private sector jobs for expressing negative thoughts on social networks about their employers.  The NLRB believes that some social network speech is protected by the NLRB and does not warrant firing an employee.

National Labor Relations Board’s Ruling:

  • Social media policies that discourage employees from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions is illegal.
  • Employers are permitted to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet.
  • Those employees who were fired from their jobs for their social network posts should be reinstated.
  • The NLRB has pushed companies nationwide to rewrite their social media rules.
  • The NLRB’s rulings apply to all private sector employers.

Some individuals are not pleased with the NLRB intervening in the social network scene.  According to the senior vice president for labor policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce, “the board is using new legal theories to expand its power in the workplace” which according to him is “causing concern and confusion.”

The NLRB is defending its position my claiming that they “are merely adapting the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, to the 21st century workplace.”

Which Companies’ Social Media Policies Does the NLRB Approve of?

According to a news source, the general counsel of the NLRB feels “that many companies’ social media policies illegally hinder workers’ exercise of their rights.” Therefore, the general counsel issued reports on the following companies’ policies:

  • Wal-Mart: The general counsel approved of Wal-Mart’s prohibition of “inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct.”
  • General Motors: The NLRB found General Motors instruction which states that “offensive, demeaning, abusive or inappropriate remarks are as out of place online as they are offline” to be unlawful.  According to the NLRB, the provision was overly broad.
  • Costco: The NLRB disapproved of Costco’s prohibition against employees posting things that “damage the company” or “any person’s reputation.”  According to the NLRB, the provision was overly broad.

In my opinion, it's never a good idea to publicly bad-mouth your employer, whether legal or illegal.

What do you think?  Should Federal regulators intervene with employers’ policies that limit what workers can say online?  Is it appropriate to discuss workplace matters on Facebook and other social networks?