January 25, 2013

In reviewing a number of recent court cases in which workers were terminated for saying disparaging things about their employers on social media, the National Labor Relations Board has determined that the scope of fireable offenses may be narrower than we’d thought, which, aside from having all sorts of important implications for the way we discuss our jobs in the age of Twitter and Facebook, may also finally encourage all you nerds out there to get rid of that idiotic “RTs ≠ endorsements” disclaimers on your Twitter bio. As the New York Times reported earlier this week:

…in a series of recent rulings and advisories, labor regulators have declared many such blanket restrictions illegal. The National Labor Relations Board says workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook.

The National Labor Relations Act was a law established in the 1930s to encourage workers to meet and discuss their labor conditions openly and freely without fear of retribution. Those same noble laws which helped to make the American work place a safer, and fairer institution (LOL @ that today tho) also, it seems, are protecting our ability to complain about how stupid our idiot boss is on Facebook. More or less. There is a line, and the situations in which a worker is fired for a social media-based offenses will still have to be reviewed in court, but the NLRB guidelines provide us more leeway than we had previously been operating under.

Bloomberg Business Week has an enlightening discussion on the finer points of the guidelines here, but the basic idea is that the leeway we’ve given employers to fire workers for saying anything remotely critical online is too broad. There are ways to constructively criticize your place of business online.  As the NYT goes on:

The labor 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.

But the agency has also found that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet. NYT

So, if you’re working collectively toward making things better, you’re good. If you’re just an average internet shithead, you may be out of luck. Something tells me there are a lot more of the latter out there, but this is my first day on the internet so I could be proven wrong.

Inside Tuscon Business further elucidates the distinctions between throwing shade and having a discourse about labor conditions. If…

• the employee’s postings or texts relate to terms and conditions of employment, they are protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

• the employee is posting or texting as a part of an employee discussion of the workplace, the actions are protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

• the employee is posting or texting from home and the comments are not verbal or physical threats, the action is protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

• the postings can be viewed by third parties but are not critical of the employer’s product or business policies, the action is protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

I’m not a lawyer, or even a person who can read and digest information well, so I’m not sure if I’m covered here, but just in case let me be the first to publicly say that Bullett Media Online Director Ben Barna is a big butthead. Man, that felt really good.

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