Bosses Can’t Get Even When Staffers Gripe on Social Media

Bosses can get mad when staffers vent on social media about their jobs, but they may not be able to get even. When one of Bert Martinez' employees posted gripes about her job and the boss on Facebook last year, the publicist consulted his lawyer, who said the staffer couldn't be fired.

"The first lesson I learned is, employees are allowed to vent," says Martinez, owner of Bert Martinez Communications in Phoenix. "If they're saying, hey, it's hard working here and I find this environment unpleasant, you can't fire them for that."

The employee quit a week after Martinez learned about the post.

The government protects workers' rights to say what they want about where they work, even if it's in a vitriolic and insulting tweet or post. It's illegal for an employee to be fired for a post about working conditions, whether it's pay, hours, assignments, difficult supervisors, dress code, or any other issue. So employers shouldn't try to restrict workers' freedom of speech or retaliate if there's a post they don't like.

It's an issue that companies of all sizes have to deal with, but it's often more challenging for smaller companies because they typically don't have large human resources departments or lawyers on staff to advise them.

What's Protected

Workers who complain about employers on social media can't be fired if they're involved in what's called concerted activity, or joining with fellow staffers to improve working conditions, according to the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency responsible for upholding workers' rights.

"The NLRB is effectively taking the position that commentary about working conditions on social media is completely protected," says Henry Perlowski, an employment law attorney with Arnall Golden Gregory in Atlanta.

A 2014 NLRB decision shows how broadly the agency views employees' rights to make such critical posts, Perlowski says. The NLRB said...

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