The National Labor Relations Board sued a Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee after she went on Facebook to criticize her boss.
Arguing the worker’s negative comments were protected speech under federal labor laws, the NLRB won the case and has set a new precedent for employers wishing to restrict what their staff can and cannot say about them online.
According to the NLRB web site, the company claimed it fired the emergency medical technician because of complaints about her work. Under the settlement with the labor board, American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. agreed to change its blogging and Internet policy that barred workers from disparaging the company or its supervisors. The company also will revise another policy that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the Internet without permission.
The Board argued that both policies interfered with longstanding legal pro
tections that allow workers to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers. Over the past several years there have been hundreds of reports of employees being fired for what they say on Facebook.
Jonathan Kreisberg, the NLRB regional director in Hartford told the Associated Press, “I think it certainly sends a message about what the NLRB views the law to be.”
“The fact that they agreed to revise their rules so that they’re not so overly restrictive of the rights of employees to discuss their terms and conditions with others and with their fellow employees is the most significant thing that comes out of this,” Kreisberg said.
Terms of a private settlement agreement between the employee, Dawnmarie Souza, and the company were not disclosed, but Kreisberg said the parties reached a financial settlement. Souza will not be returning to work there.
Souza posted the Facebook comments in 2009 from her home computer, hours after her supervisor said a customer had complained about her work. The expletive-filled posting referred to her supervisor using the company’s code for a psychiatric patient. Her remarks at the time drew supportive posts from colleagues.
Chuck Cohen, a labor and employment lawyer and former NLRB member during the Clinton administration, said the case will have employers around the country re-examining their Internet policies.
This certainly sets a new precedent for corporate social media restrictions and I will be advising my clients to review their current policies.