How Has Facebook Affected Employment Law?
Friday, February 4, 2011
Employers are tripping over legal hurdles as more companies and their workers use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is considering a case that explores whether a medical-transportation company illegally fired an employee after she criticized her boss on Facebook.
“The general rule is that social media is no different than print or oral communications when it comes to employee issues,” explains employment law expert Regina Robson, J.D., an assistant professor of management. “The same rules for libel, slander, or invasion of privacy apply.”
Robson says this case is particularly interesting because it’s been positioned as an event involving concerted activity – defined as communication among employees seeking to improve work conditions. Concerted activity is protected under the National Labor Relations Act.
“To qualify as concerted activity, the employee must prove that the communications were to other employees and related to working conditions,” says Robson. “For example, the NLRB wouldn’t protect a statement that only involved an ‘insulting, obscene or personal attack on a supervisor without any connection to larger working conditions.”
Robson says an employer’s best defense to protect itself against this kind of case is to draft a responsible social media strategy which recognizes legitimate rights of employees, and then to train all employees about the policy. Her advice to employees is to familiarize themselves with their company’s social media policy, and to stick to working conditions when discussing work issues with colleagues in person, or online. “Personal attacks are far more likely to lead to termination than discussions of wages and working conditions.”