Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Federal regulators are ordering employers to scale back policies that limit what workers can say online

Employees have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, The New York Times reports today -- whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook, or other social media such as Gannett Blog.

“Many view social media as the new water cooler,” said Mark Pearce, the National Labor Relation Board’s chairman, noting that federal law has long protected the right of employees to discuss work-related matters. “All we’re doing is applying traditional rules to a new technology.”

The board’s rulings, which apply to virtually all private sector employers, generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies -- like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer -- if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions, the NYT says.

But the agency has also found that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet. And one example involves a reporter for The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, which is published by a company owned equally by Gannett and Lee Enterprises.

Frustrated by a lack of news, the reporter posted several Twitter comments. One said, “What?!?!?! No overnight homicide. . . . You’re slacking, Tucson.” Another began, “You stay homicidal, Tucson.”

The newspaper fired the reporter, according to the NYT, and board officials found the dismissal legal, saying the posts were offensive, not concerted activity and not about working conditions.

Earlier: News-Press reporter leaves Fort Myers, Fla., paper after being disciplined over Chick-fil-A post on Facebook last August.

How do you feel about posting online comments critical of the company? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. I think you're shooting yourself in the foot if you trash your employer via social media. If social media is to be viewed as "the new water cooler," then you need to be discreet about your rants and remarks just as you would around the water cooler so as not to let the boss hear you. Regardless of what the law says, if you make Internet remarks that your employer finds offensive, they'll find a way to can you. That's why everyone who posts here on Gannett Blog does it anonymously.

    1. And because they are cowards who like making up B.S. without suffering the consequences. Don't forget that part.

    2. Wait, you just said that anonymously.

  2. Troll buster1/23/2013 8:42 PM

    11:09, we know who's paying you to post, why not use your name? Facebook is not exactly the "watercooler" since you have to be invited by me to read my comments, posts and look at my photos. I don't have to "friend" my employer. Even if I was foolish enough to do that, I can still regulate what they see, so the analogy doesn't hold to the point of your boss lurking near and eaves dropping conversations at the physical "watercooler."


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