The National Labor Relations Board settled a widely followed case involving an employee who was fired after she complained about her boss on her facebook account. Company policy prohibited employees from disparaging the company and its employees, or even discussing the company on the web. The NLRB got involved, and sued the company.
The company had denied the worker the right to union representation when her supervisor questioned her. That action led to her disparaging remarks. In a settlement agreement, the company has agreed to alter its rules about employees’ rights to discuss their working conditions with each other, and not to deny union representation during meetings with managers. The employee will not be reinstated.
Although this is a unionized employer, the NLRB’s rules apply to workplaces where there has never been a union. Employers are often surprised to learn that they may not make rules forbidding employees to discuss their wages with each other, for example. The right to collective action exists short of a formal collective bargaining organization. Does it extend to “disparagement” on facebook? In this context, probably: the post apparently complained about the working conditions, that is, the employee’s treatment by the supervisor. The conclusion would be stronger if the worker’s facebook friends included coworkers. If the disparaging comments were personal attacks, however, they probably would not qualify as protected discussions.