September 09, 2011, 4:29 PM — It has been widely accepted by both employees and organizations that what you say on a social media network about a company where you're working could get you fired. A recent decision by a judge in New York may have changed all that after he ordered five people who were fired over comments on Facebook to go back to work.
In the case in question, five employees of National Hispanics of Buffalo complained about their workplace on Facebook, and the organization fired them as a result. They appealed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), where Judge Arthur Amchan ruled that the nonprofit must rehire all five employees and pay them for the time they were off.
Why Were the Employees Fired?
An employee made the comments in question on her Facebook wall after a co-worker had told her that she wasn't doing enough work for her clients: "Lydia Cruz, a co-worker feels that we don't help our clients enough at HUB I about had it! My fellow coworkers how do u feel?"
Other employees then commented on the statement. Both the comments and the statements were made on a Saturday, not a work day for any of those involved.
Unfortunately, the co-worker who had originally admonished the employee had access to the comments and reported them to her boss. Five of the employees involved were then fired, the reason given was that they were participating in bullying and harassment against the slagged employee.
The judge makes a point of stating that the organization had not replaced the employees in question, and the organization may have been looking for an excuse to cut back on costs.
What the NLRB Says
In the decision rendered by Judge Amchan, discussion on Facebook is considered to be a "protected concerted activity".
This mirrors another case earlier in the year when American Medical Response of Connecticut fired an employee over publicly criticizing her boss on Facebook, in which her rights were also referred to as concerted activities. According to the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, this means that "employees must be permitted to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with co-workers and others".
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