Criticizing your employer on social-media sites such as Facebook may not be the smartest career move there is, but can companies fire you for expressing such opinions?
It depends. Until recently, it was thought businesses had free rein to dismiss workers who post complaints or rude comments on Facebook, Twitter and the like. But, as The Wall Street Journal reports, workers are fighting back, using a Depression-era law that protects workers who speak their minds on some topics related to the workplace.
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 doesn't protect workers from dismissals related to petty gripes, but it does give private-sector employees the right to complain about pay, safety and other working conditions.
The agency in charge of enforcing the law, the National Labor Relations Board, says that employees at more than 100 businesses have accused their employers of acting illegally in reaction to workers' activities on social-media sites.
The Journal reports that about half of the complaints reviewed by the NLRB were sufficiently credible to merit further action by the agency, usually in a civil complaint filed against employers on behalf of employees.
NRLB's actions don't sit well with conservative lawmakers and business groups who feel that the agency is inserting itself into a new area of labor law.
In the agency's first such case, the NLRB determined that American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. acted illegally earlier last year when the company fired paramedic Dawnmarie Souza after she posted a Facebook comment, using her personal computer, saying that her supervisor was a "scumbag."
In a statement, the NLRB said Souza's actions were no different than chatting around a water cooler. "The point is that employees have protection under the law to talk to each other about conditions at work."
For its part, American Medical Response said that it was aware of Souza's Facebook post, but said her dismissal "was based on multiple, serious complaints about her behavior."
The case was settled earlier this year, before it could advance to an NLRB administrative judge, the Journal notes. But the company did agree to revise its Internet-posting policy so it wouldn't violate workers' rights.
As for Souza, she remains unemployed but told the newspaper that she doesn't regret calling her supervisor the name.
Other, similar cases involving employees of Frito-Lay and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were settled in favor of those companies.
Given the novel nature of the complaints, however, it will likely be several years before it becomes clear which types of comments by employees are protected under the nation's labor laws.
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