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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Law - "Even if It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected"

That is the headline to this long, front-page story today in the NY Times, reported by Steven Greenhouse. It take a comprehensive look at recent NLRB rulings saying:

... workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook.

In addition to ordering the reinstatement of various workers fired for their posts on social networks, the agency has pushed companies nationwide, including giants like General Motors, Target and Costco, to rewrite their social media rules.

“Many view social media as the new water cooler,” said Mark G. Pearce, the board’s chairman, noting that federal law has long protected the right of employees to discuss work-related matters. “All we’re doing is applying traditional rules to a new technology.”

The decisions come amid a broader debate over what constitutes appropriate discussion on Facebook and other social networks. Schools and universities are wrestling with online bullying and student disclosures about drug use. Governments worry about what police officers and teachers say and do online on their own time. Even corporate chieftains are finding that their online comments can run afoul of securities regulators.

The labor board’s rulings, which apply to virtually all private sector employers, generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.

More from the story:
The N.L.R.B. is not the only government entity setting new rules about corporations and social media. On Jan. 1, California and Illinois became the fifth and sixth states to bar companies from asking employees or job applicants for their social network passwords.

Lewis L. Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, said social media rights were looming larger in the workplace.

He said he was disturbed by a case in which a Michigan advertising agency fired a Web site trainer who also wrote fiction after several employees voiced discomfort about racy short stories he had posted on the Web.

“No one should be fired for anything they post that’s legal, off-duty and not job-related,” Mr. Maltby said.

As part of the labor board’s stepped-up role, its general counsel has issued three reports concluding that many companies’ social media policies illegally hinder workers’ exercise of their rights.

There are a number of links within the article. In addition, many comments already have been posted to the NYT site.

The social media policies of Wal-Mart, Cosco and General Motors may be located by using the search box at this page, and typing in, eg, "Wal-Mart social media".

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 22, 2013 11:18 AM
Posted to General Law Related