In my search for an article containing lawsuits involving employee posts on social media networks, I was quite surprised to learn how much of problem this has become. According to Melanie Trottman (2011) of the Wall Street Journal, employees that have been severely disciplined or terminated due to their activities on social media websites have been retaliating by use of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. This law provides employees that work in private-sectors the right to voice their opinion in regards to employment conditions, such as pay and safety.
The National Labor Relations Board is the organization that has the final say when determining whether or not an employee has a valid complaint. If the employee’s complaint is found to be valid the NLRB will file a civil complaint against the employer on behalf of the employee. In these cases the complaint is then heard by a NLRB judge who suggests a solution to the employee’s complaint.
One lawsuit Trottman provided that caught my interest involved a paramedic from Connecticut that was fired for calling her employer a “scumbag” on her home computer’s Facebook page. As stated by Trottman this was the NLRB’s “first ever involving a firing related to social media” (Trottman, 2011). The findings of the NLRB were that the employee was wrongfully terminated, because the employee made the comment to other employees about the actions of their supervisor. It was also deemed “protected concerted activity” by the NLRB, because the supervisor had provoked the comments by denying union representation during a meeting involving a customer complaint in regards to the complaining paramedic.
I have to agree with the findings of the NLRB in the case I mentioned above. Normally, I would never justify calling my employer names in any situation, and I would try to resolve the situation in a more appropriate manner. However, in this case the employer should not have denied the employee union representation when she requested it. Employees pay union dues for a reason, and in any case where a complaint has been made against them they should have the right to have someone there to defend them if they need it.
In my opinion, by denying the employee her right to union representation the employer initiated a hostile work environment. In a sense, the employee was warning her fellow co-workers that the same thing could happen to them if there was ever a complaint made against them. I also think that the employee’s comments made outside of work on her personal computer should not have been viewed by her supervisor in the first place. Social networks are used to voice personal views and ideas to family and friends, and unless the supervisor was allowed by the complaining employee to view the page he should not have been spying on her in the first place.
In conclusion, although I feel that making derogatory statements about an employer in any setting is morally wrong. I don’t feel that an employee should be reprimanded for “hurting someone’s feelings” outside of work. In this case, no threats were made to the employer and nobody was seriously hurt by the situation. The employee was simply utilizing her freedom of speech rights, and venting her frustrations.
If something like the case I mentioned happened at my workplace I think the employee relations in regards to our supervisors would become worse regardless of the decision made by the NLRB. In the company I work at most of the employees already feel as if they can’t trust many of the members of management, because they act as if they are only looking out for themselves. If one of my supervisors began spying on an employee’s outside activities it would create a hostile work environment, and the workers would probably become less productive and morale would be compromised.
The decision made by the NLRB in the above case was in favor of the employee. However, that employee did not get her job back, and is still
unemployed according to the article. In the area I work employment is not easy to come by, and just knowing that they could lose their job by making statements such as these would deter many of my co-workers from that sort of activity. I don’t think many people know what type of consequences they might face if they engage in this type of activity outside of work, and I believe many would change their habits after reading some of these articles.
To ensure that situations like this don’t occur again in the future I would suggest to my employer that they need to work with the employees and not against them, especially when the situation requires more evidence before convicting the employee of guilt. I would also recommend having more evidence of insubordination available, instead of relying solely on social media comments. Also, whenever a union is involved the supervisor should have proper knowledge of the laws in regards to the union. Unions can be helpful to both the employee and the employer, so it is detrimental that supervisors are knowledgeable regarding union laws as well.
I feel that it’s an invasion of privacy to implement a social media policy that prevents an employee from voicing their personal opinions outside of their working environment. Therefore, if I were to implement a social media policy I would not use stipulations that could be imposed on employees who use social networks outside of work.
If I were to implement a social media policy I would make sure that some sort of educational program was implemented so that every employee knew that posting negative or derogatory statements on a social media page could be detrimental to them and to the company’s reputation. By implementing educational programs the employees will become more aware of how much their statements can impact the company, and will hopefully deter them from behaving in an inappropriate manner while on social network sites.
I would make it mandatory that social networks are not allowed to be used on company property, and the employees would be informed that if they are caught using company equipment for personal use they could be terminated. Also, I would make them aware that their activities while online are monitored at all times, which will deter most employees from any type of online misuse.
Trottman, M. (2011). For Angry Employees, Legal Cover for Rants. Retrieved 01 20, 2013 from The Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203710704577049822809710332.html