Griping About Work Online Is (Mostly) Protected

Employees have a right to band together, say recent rulings

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 22, 2013 12:17 PM CST

(Newser) – Companies have been overstepping their authority by restricting workers' online comments, say federal officials who are moving to fix the issue. Labor regulators have deemed some firings over social-network discussions illegal, arguing that companies' rules regarding online speech are far too broad, the New York Times reports. A lot of workers "view social media as the new water cooler," says the head of the National Labor Relations Board. "All we’re doing is applying traditional rules to a new technology."

Thanks to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, workers have a right to engage in "concerted activity" for "mutual aid" when it comes to discussing matters like working conditions, officials say. But not every online complaint is fair game. The Times offers some examples of both:

  • When a social worker threatened to tell the boss that fellow employees were slacking, one person took to Facebook to ask others how they felt about the threat. All who commented were fired. Labor officials called those firings illegal.
  • But when a police reporter jokingly complained on Twitter that there hadn't been enough local murders, the ensuing firing was deemed legal because the posts were not about working conditions.

A Facebook logo is displayed on the screen of an iPad, Wednesday, May 16, 2012 in New York.
A Facebook logo is displayed on the screen of an iPad, Wednesday, May 16, 2012 in New York.   (AP Photo/James H. Collins)
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