Posted by Jackie Wallentin
Jim Smith: “My boss sucks. He doesn’t know how to do his job. I hate this company. Let’s boycott. Petition to impeach?”
Jim’s boss sees this post on Facebook. He sees that other employees have also commented, agreeing that he fails at his job. He sees that nine people have liked the status and that many more will before the night is over. Can he fire Jim for emotional distress or hateful speech?
According to The National Labor Relations Board, Jim’s speech is protected. The independent agency has declared Facebook posts as protected speech within the First Amendment, even speech that is hurtful or negative.
The statement developed out of a lawsuit involving such a case. NLRB represented an employee after her boss fired her for a post containing vulgar language about the company’s management. The comments were done outside the work place on her personal computer. Her termination was unwarrented. The agency says prohibiting such social media is a violation of labor laws to protect employees’ right to discuss work, salaries and conditions.
Although I would never suggest one relieve frustration about work in an open forum, I do believe employees’ speech should be protected. Employees have the right to voice their opinions in the workplace. What makes the Internet any different?
The line between work and home blurs with each new social media site, phone app or conversation website. Employees friend colleagues on Facebook. People tweet about their workdays from the office. On lunch breaks, some may upload photos to Flickr or write a quick blog. Where does work begin and social media end? Can you only have one at a time?
I don’t believe employers have the right to enforce policies for speech made about them using social media. Such regulations would detract from the workplace, cause unnecessary barriers between employees and those above.
A simple solution: basic etiquette. Employees should avoid using social media on the company’s clock excessively, except if social media is essential to the job, of course. If negative comments are imminent, one should discuss them with a colleague privately or send an email. Broadcasting one’s dislike or contempt for a boss or fellow office worker in a public online forum is unprofessional.
With the age of social media quickly infiltrating all aspect’s of our lives, will there be a time when we are unable to turn our social media ‘selves’ off? Has that time already come?
For those unable to control themselves, find comfort in the First Amendment. Although Thomas Jefferson never had a Facebook, his idea of liberty protects our right to free speech and protects us against our own stupid comments.