NLRB: Firing Over Facebook Illegal

File this under “we shoulda seen it coming”. The National Labor Relations Board is taking issue with a company who fired an employee for making disparaging remarks against said employer.

The labor relations board announced last week that it had filed a complaint against an ambulance service, American Medical Response of Connecticut, that fired an emergency medical technician, accusing her, among other things, of violating a policy that bars employees from depicting the company “in any way” on Facebook or other social media sites in which they post pictures of themselves.

Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, said, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act — whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”

It’s one thing to for employees to constructively discuss working conditions and how they need improving without the threat of backlash and another for an employee to make derisive comments about her manager on her Facebook page. In this case, Dawnmarie Souza, the terminated employee, evidently had some very choice words for her former manager when he wouldn’t allow her union to step in to defend her against a customer complaint.

Ms. Souza then mocked her supervisor on Facebook, using several vulgarities to ridicule him, according to Jonathan Kreisberg, director of the board’s Hartford office, which filed the complaint. He also said she had written, “love how the company allows a 17 to become a supervisor” — 17 is the company’s lingo for a psychiatric patient.

Really? Is this ever appropriate?

I just can’t see this particular situation being about employment rights. Ms. Souza is not a whistleblower who was terminated because she brought unfavorable conditions to light but rather an employee throwing a virtual temper tantrum in public at her manager’s expense. And while Ms. Souza may have friended co-workers on Facebook, it’s quite probable that her entire audience was not solely made of co-workers. Which may take some steam out of the “concerted protected activity” argument.

Either way, she’s got her hearing.

An administrative law judge is scheduled to begin hearing the case on Jan. 25. Marshall B. Babson, a member of the National Labor Relations Board in the 1980s, said a broad company rule that says one cannot make disparaging comments about supervisors is clearly illegal under labor law. But he said an employee’s criticizing a company or supervisor on Facebook was not necessarily protected activity.

We’ll just have to see where this goes. It’s sure to be groundbreaking either way.