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Social media work policies

The National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work, with or without a union. This protection extends to certain work-related conversations conducted on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

In 2010, the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency that enforces the Act, began receiving charges in its regional offices related to employer social media policies and to specific instances of discipline for Facebook postings. Following investigations, the agency found reasonable cause to believe that some policies and disciplinary actions violated federal labor law, and the NLRB Office of General Counsel issued complaints against employers alleging unlawful conduct. In other cases, investigations found that the communications were not protected and so disciplinary actions did not violate the Act.

General Counsel memos

To ensure consistent enforcement actions, and in response to requests from employers for guidance in this developing area, Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon released three memos in 2011 and 2012 detailing the results of investigations in dozens of social media cases.

The first report, issued on August 18, 2011, described 14 cases. In four cases involving employees’ use of Facebook, the Office of General Counsel found that the employees were engaged in "protected concerted activity" because they were discussing terms and conditions of employment with fellow employees. In five other cases involving Facebook or Twitter posts, the activity was found to be unprotected. In one case, it was determined that a union engaged in unlawful coercive conduct when it videotaped interviews with employees at a nonunion jobsite about their immigration status and posted an edited version on YouTube and the Local Union’s Facebook page. In five cases, some provisions of employers’ social media policies were found to be overly-broad. A final case involved an employer’s lawful policy restricting its employees’ contact with the media.

The second report, issued Jan 25, 2012, also looked at 14 cases, half of which involved questions about employer policies. Five of those policies were found to be unlawfully broad, one was lawful, and one was found to be lawful after it was revised. The remaining cases involved discharges of employees after they posted comments to Facebook. Several discharges were found to be unlawful because they flowed from unlawful policies. But in one case, the discharge was upheld despite an unlawful policy because the employee’s posting was not work-related. The report underscored two main points regarding the NLRB and social media:

  • Employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.
  • An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.

Local police departments review social media policies  — WKYC-TV
Oliver says the tensions in Ferguson right now are a prime reason why trust is needed between the officers and the community they serve. He says that's why they have a social media policy.

Social media policies in the workplace  — Lexology
This is an ever-increasing area of litigation. In a series of recent decisions, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) has found social media policies unlawful because those interfere with employees' rights to act collectively.

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