Can you be fired for something you say on Facebook? Yes, you can. In fact, many people have been let go for posting photos or saying something inappropriate on social networks. But at least one of them is fighting back.
Late last year, American Medical Response of Connecticut fired EMT Dawnmarie Souza, at least in part because of mean things she said about her boss on Facebook. No matter that Souza used her own computer and her own account to trash her boss, or that other coworkers apparently agreed with her assessment of said supervisor.
[ See also: How to avoid being drunk and disorderly on Facebook ]
The National Labor Relations Board is saying “not so fast, kemosabe.” According to the NLRB, conversations about working conditions with fellow employees (even those that consist of “my boss is a flaming a*****e”) constitute protected speech under the National Labor Relations Act no matter where they occur –- at the water cooler, on email, or on social networks. It has filed a complaint on Souza’s behalf attempting to get her reinstated.
AMR claims it had many reasons for canning Souza. It also claims that making disparaging comments on Facebook -- which violates the company’s written policies -- is a legit reason for firing her in any case. An administrative judge will hear the case in January and decide who’s right. If he rules in favor of the NLRB, that could have a big impact on how employers view Facebook conversations (at least, under certain conditions, like whether they’re talking with co-workers about things relevant to work).
Per the New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse, the ruling could affect even non-union shops:
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, a law firm with a large labor and employment practice representing hundreds of companies, [sent] a “lawflash” advisory on Monday to its clients, saying, “All private sector employers should take note,” regardless “of whether their work force is represented by a union.”
The firm added, “Employers should review their Internet and social media policies to determine whether they are susceptible to an allegation that the policy would ‘reasonably tend to chill employees’ ” in the exercise of their rights to discuss wages, working conditions and unionization.
But unlike Souza, most of us aren’t union employees and don’t have the NLRB to watch our backs. And the sad fact is that you have almost no privacy at work, especially if any alleged privacy violations involve the use of company equipment. Their stuff, their rules.
There are limits, of course -- companies generally can’t get away with videotaping you in the toilet -- but they are few and far between. If you live and work in a state that allows private employers to hire “at will” -- which is to say, nearly all of them -- then your boss can terminate you just because he or she is having a bad hair day.
Yet, that doesn’t stop people from publicly trashing their supervisors on Facebook. Trolling OpenBook for “my boss the a******e” (without the asterisks) turns up a surprising number of angry diatribes from people are employed and presumably want to stay that way. It’s a dangerous game they’re playing.