It’s hard to miss the National Labor Relations Board’s recent activity targeting employer decisions based on workers’ use of social media – as it attempts to establish parameters in the work-life balance between social media and rights protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Just when employers understandably may feel compelled to stop basing employment decisions on social media use, a recent Advice Memorandum is giving employers hope.
The Arizona Daily Star had encouraged its reporter to use social media to reach people who might not read the paper and to drive readers to the newspaper’s website. The employee tweeted using his work computer, his company-provided cellphone and his home computer and linked his Twitter account to his Facebook and MySpace pages. Therefore, whenever he tweeted, the same message would be posted on Facebook and MySpace.
In one tweet, the employee criticized the Daily Star’s television staff. The employer warned the employee that his comments were inappropriate, but he continued to post inappropriate tweets, while commenting as a public safety reporter. The tweets included, “What?/?/?/? No overnight homicide? WTF? You’re slacking Tuscon.”
His employer suspended him then terminated his employment. He filed a charge with the NLRB Regional Office claiming he was terminated for engaging in NLRA-protected concerted activity. The Regional Office, as instructed by Office of the General Counsel’s Memorandum dated April 12, 2011, referred the charge to the Division of Advice (“Division”) because the charge involved discipline for engaging in alleged protected concerted activity using social media.
The Division did not find a violation of the NLRA. It instructed the NLRB Regional Office to dismiss the unfair labor practice charge. It determined that after opening a Twitter account and linking it to the Daily Star’s website, the employee engaged in “inappropriate and offensive Twitter postings that did not involve protected concerted activity” and was terminated for engaging in misconduct. This is an important development for employers, perhaps signaling the NLRB’s seemingly aggressive social media stance may not be one-sided.
The victory, however, has been tempered by the NLRB General Counsel’s May 9, 2011, complaint against Hispanics United of Buffalo, a nonprofit organization that provides social services to low-income clients. The complaint alleges the firing of five employees for Facebook postings that criticized working conditions was improper interference with protected concerted activity. It alleged that an employee posted a co-worker’s allegations that employees did not help the company’s clients enough and other employees responded to the post by defending their work and blaming working conditions, including staffing workload issues. The employer fired the five employees after learning of the posts because it found the comments were harassing to the employee who made the original post. A hearing has been scheduled for June 22, 2011.
These latest developments seem to show the NLRB searching for balance between the workplace and social media. The Wall Street Journal reports the Board said it had more than two dozen cases involving worker complaints aired on the social media site Facebook. Stay tuned . . . but in the mean time, employers need to think carefully before acting.