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Fired for Facebook Posts: Social Media Postings May Constitute Protected “Concerted Activity”

Dec 13th, 2011

Under a series of recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employees who are retaliated against for posting comments on social media websites regarding work conditions may be protected by Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act. Under these sections, employees have the right to engage in concerted activity for the purpose of “mutual aid or protection,” regarding work conditions. Employers cannot retaliate against employees for exercising such rights.

This protection applies regardless of whether the employees are unionized or not. In one particular case, an employee called her boss a “scumbag” on her Facebook page. She had been reprimanded for a customer complaint, which drew various positive responses from her co-workers. Such activity was found by the NLRB to be a protected activity. It concerned the conditions of the employee’s employment and was joined in by other employees.

The real issue with such postings is usually whether the posting is actually a comment regarding work conditions, or whether it strays into the unprotected area of “opprobrious” comments. “Opprobrious” comments are often characterized as mere gripes and sudden outbursts against management. However, regardless of the details, the NLRB’s recent decisions represent a shift. A shift in application of the decades-old protections for concerted activity to a modern realm of organization and communication. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media websites are the newest arenas for collective action of all sorts.

Look no further than the recent Occupy movement and the revolutions across the Arab world for confirmation of this. It’s not surprising the NLRB would defend those that engage in protected activity in these arenas from illegal employment actions. Individuals who have been terminated or otherwise retaliated against for work-related postings on social media websites should contact Ogborn Mihm LLP to discuss their potential claims.