According to today’s New York Times, federal regulators are ordering employers to revisit and scale back their policies limiting what workers say online. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/technology/employers-social-media-policies-come-under-regulatory-scrutiny.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&) Differing policies, though, can make it tricky for organizations in individual cases.
In one cited case, when a caseworker in upstate New York threatened to report to the boss that others weren’t working hard enough, another worker posted a Facebook message asking co-workers how they felt about that. Although several colleagues posted angry, occasionally expletive-laden responses that the organization considered harassment against the original caseworker, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) disagreed.
It determined that the caseworkers were unlawfully terminated and that their comments were “concerted activity” for “mutual aid”. There was only one NLRB member who dissented in that decision, viewing their online comments as simply venting.
The NLRB praised Wal-Mart’s social policy, revised with the agency’s input, which prohibits “inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct.”
However, the agency criticized General Motor’s policy, saying “We found unlawful the instruction that ‘offensive, demeaning, abusive or inappropriate remarks are as out of place online as they are offline.’ ” It also rejected as overly broad Costco’s blanket prohibition against its employees posting items that “damage the company” or “any person’s reputation.”