The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has weighed in on the somewhat sticky issue of social media and employee rights this week, further lending credibility to the idea that speech on social networks should be protected against certain management actions.
The issue of social media and how your behavior on the sites affects your job is one that is ever evolving, and scarily, could evolve into areas with which we are not entirely comfortable. Much like the concerns surrounding our Fourth Amendment rights and the relatively new ability for searches to be conducted in a broad and sweeping way through digital means, social media has created a new realm of interaction the likes of which did not even close to exist before sites like Facebook and Twitter were developed.
So like, in the past, you could complain about your job all you liked- but unless you wanted to mimeograph some anti-work flyers and mail them to random addresses, your reach was often limited to how loud your vocal cords went. But now, you can fire off a random tweet or Facebook status (“scheduled three Fridays in a row, Big Name Chain Restaurant is such a bunch of fascists!”) and reach millions of people with a message about your workplace that is not necessarily the same one the company wishes to project.
Even just being associated with a company, by merit of listing them as your employer, could cause problems for the brand if you have poor judgment or controversial views- would you patronize a day care center if the owner supported NAMBLA?
The specific ruling of the NLRB deals with what is known as “concerted activity,” or informal discussion of worker rights and conditions. The organization explains:
“The NLRB has filed unfair labor practice charges against employers who have disciplined employees for social media use that the NLRB felt could be seen as ‘concerted activity.’ In addition, the NLRB has filed unfair labor practice charges against employers who have social media policies that the NLRB felt might be construed as ‘chilling’ employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity.” “
The NLRB continues:
“Company policies on social media are usually adopted in order to inform employees of the company’s position on use of the company name or logo in social media posts, to prohibit dissemination of confidential business information of the company, and to prohibit employees from presenting their personal views as those of the company. While these are all legitimate concerns, and prohibiting this conduct does not violate the National Labor Relations Act, many employers have wrestled with stating these legitimate policies specifically enough that they could not be broadly construed as chilling employees’ rights to use social media to communicate with co-workers about workplace conditions.”
You can read the full statement from the NLRB on social media over on their website.