Seemingly intent on making sure it is perceived as current, if not trendy, today’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has continued to demonstrate an avid interest in social media. Not only is it paying attention to new media in all its forms, but it is also actively participating, with a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and a Twitter feed.

On April 12, 2011, the NLRB General Counsel issued a memorandum (pdf) to NLRB Regional Directors updating the list of matters that must be submitted to the Division on Advice. Included on the list are cases involving:

employer rules prohibiting or discipline of employees for engaging in, protected concerted activity using social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.

This is expected to allow the Board to have an earlier and more uniform oversight of matters involving social media.

The directive comes after the Board’s recent involvement in matters concerning possible protected concerted activity on Facebook and Twitter. In late 2010, the NLRB challenged a company’s Social Media/Facebook policies which the company maintained were lawful. The case settled with the company agreeing to make suggested changes to its policies.

In April, 2011, the NLRB targeted another social medial resource – Twitter. According to the New York Times,  the NLRB had warned a New York news agency that it planned to file a complaint accusing the company of illegally reprimanding a reporter over her criticism of company management in a Twitter posting. The Board asserted the company violated the reporter’s right to discuss working conditions with other employees. The matter was resolved when the union and company – which had been negotiating a new contract – reached a tentative contract on April 28, 2011. According to the New York Times,  the company has agreed to negotiate a new social media policy that would include language that will protect employees’ speech and the right to engage in other concerted activity about working conditions.

The Board again focused on Facebook after issuing its directive. On April 27, 2011, the NLRB reported it had approved a settlement in a case involving a California web-based home improvement retailer. A former employee had claimed she was terminated from her employment in retaliation for having posted comments about the company and possible state labor code violations on Facebook. The case was resolved and as part of the settlement the company agreed to post a notice at the workplace for 60 days stating that employees have the right to post comments about terms and conditions of employment on their social media pages and that they will not be terminated or otherwise punished for such conduct.

It is only a matter of time before there is a litigated case and a court’s ruling addressing these very real and reoccurring issues. Employers should exercise care in how they handle social media issues from a labor relations perspective and treat the recent NLRB scrutiny as an invitation to revisit their own social media policies.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.