NLRB to Release Guidelines On Facebook Firings

facebook firingsIs there still any doubt that you can't get away with slamming your boss on Facebook?

The absence of face-to-face interaction on the social network has tricked many a user to post about whatever they wish on any number of topics, including frustrations stemming from the workplace. It's a lot easier to zing the person sitting in the corner office when you're talking to a blank screen.

But of course Facebook counts more than 750 million users, and so word gets out. And no amount of thumbs-up from your Facebook friends can provide protection from the consequences of a nasty post.

The story has become as old as Friendster, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency tasked with arbitrating work-related indiscretions on Facebook, has announced that it will release guidelines in coming weeks as to how it will deal with certain Facebook scenarios. The NLRB is also urging its regional offices to send all Facebook-related cases to its Washington headquarters.

The NLRB says that it was a recent uptick in cases that has caused it to outline the formal guidelines. However broad the protections they spell out, the new provisions are sure to upset some sectors of the workforce: A recent Deloitte study found that 53 percent of employees don't think their social media presence should be subject to their boss' oversight.

But incidents that preceded the recent slew of cases have already made it clear that no amount of privacy settings can insure a purely open mic for disgruntled workers.

When medical technician Dawnmarie Souza posted on Facebook in 2010 how she "love[d] how the company allows a 17 to become a supervisor," she was referring to her boss at the Hartford office of the American Medical Response (AMR) of Connecticut, which uses the number "17" to refer to psychiatric patients.

Even though Souza made the comments from the confines of her personal computer during non-working hours, she was soon fired. Her initial appeal to the NLRB seemed to suggest the agency was willing to consider social media behavior in a different light, reserving for it greater freedoms.

In February 2011, The NLRB told AMR its policy prohibiting employees from making negative comments on social networks about either other employees or the company was "overly broad" and "contained unlawful positions," as CNN Money reported.

Initially, observers interpreted the NLRB stance as proof that established workers' rights to engage in "protected and concerted" activities, such as discussing workplace conditions, remained robust on networks like Facebook. Indeed, AMR agreed to revise its ban on negative comments to reduce restrictions on workers' speech.

"The fact that they agreed to revise their rules so that they're not so overly restrictive of the rights of employees to discuss their terms and conditions with others and with their fellow employees is the most significant thing that comes out of this," NLRB regional director Jonathan Kreisberg told AP at the time.

When the landmark case study ended in a settlement and resulted in Souza's leaving the company, it was seen as further proof that the status update was dangerous ground to opine on.

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