On Monday, The New York Times reported that the National Labor Relations Board has intervened to prevent the firing of an employee for criticizing his or her boss on Facebook. Here's a brief guide to the precedent-setting action:
Dawnmarie Souza was fired from her job at American Medical Response of Connecticut, an ambulance service, after insulting her boss on Facebook. The incident began when Souza was hit with a customer complaint and felt mistreated by a supervisor. She took to Facebook to vent her frustration, using "several vulgarities" to characterize the supervisor, and referring him to as a "17" — ambulance-service lingo for a psychiatric patient. American Medical Reponse has a strict social media policy that forbids employees from characterizing the company "in any way"on Facebook. Following the incident, Souza was dismissed.
Why did the government intervene on her behalf?
The National Labor Relations Board's stance is that American Medical Response "improperly limited employees’ rights to discuss working conditions among themselves." Souza's complaint counts as "concerted speech," which is covered under a 1935 pro-union law that advocates such "for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." In other words, workers are free to get together in groups to vent about workplace conditions or problems with management.
So you can say whatever you want on Facebook about your boss?
Not quite, says Eve Tahmincioglu at The Atlantic. Legal authorities agree that personal attacks — "abusive, libelous, or pornographic comments," for instance — are not protected. Neither can employees expect to get away with "divulging company secrets."
What's going on with the case?
An administrative law judge is scheduled to begin a hearing on January 25 to decide whether Souza's comments are protected. For its part, American Medical Response claims that Souza was fired "based on multiple, serious complaints about her behavior," not just the Facebook posting.
What implications could this have?
This case "could have a far-reaching impact on social media policies at the nation's employers who now prohibit any un-sanctioned company comments," says Tahmincioglu, and "could also be a boon for employee free speech on the internet." An "ideal" strategy for bosses eager to avoid this kind of situation, says Mario Sundar at LinkedIn, is seeking employee input when creating a social media policy.