NLRB Defends Employees' Right to Talk about Work, Union on Facebook

Workers' use of Facebook to discuss or complain about work-related issues has been defended by Region 34 of the National Labor Relations Board as "protected concerted activity" in a complaint it settled this week with an employer.

The pre-trial settlement between the Board's regional office in Hartford, Conn., and a Connecticut ambulance service should make employers think twice before disciplining workers who use social networking websites to talk about work-related issues.

American Medical Response of Connecticut fired the worker, a member of the Teamsters union, for Facebook comments about a supervisor, to which some of her coworkers responded. The NLRB charged that the company violated the worker's protected rights, and that its policies on blogging, Internet posting, and communications illegally restricted workers from activities permitted under the National Labor Relations Act.

The company settled with the NLRB before the case, which began in December 2009, went to trial. As part of that settlement, it promised not to discipline employees for engaging in lawful activities, and agreed to revise its personnel policies so they do not restrict workers from discussing wages, hours and working conditions with each other outside of work. The worker's discharge was resolved in a separate agreement between the employee and the company.

In a related case, CWA has filed a unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB against T-Mobile over the company's restrictive and overly broad policies against employees' freedom to discuss workplace issues on social networking sites. "The policy forbids employees from discussing any workplace controversies," District 1 staff attorney Gay Semel said. "Under such a policy, T-Mobile would bar workers from even commenting on the unfair labor practice complaint that we have filed on their behalf."

Semel said that workers' ability to discuss work-related issues on Facebook should not be treated differently under the law. "Concerted activity is permitted and should be protected wherever workers talk about the terms and conditions of their work that concern them," she said.