On September 20, 2011, we reported on Hispanics United of Buffalo, Inc., the first National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge decision examining an employee's discharge for social media activity. Recently, the Board made Hispanics United its second decision examining protected, concerted activity involving Facebook, and held that the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act when it discharged five employees for criticizing another employee on Facebook. Although examining a new media, the Board stated that it was relying on established precedent to find that the activity in question was for “mutual aid or protection” within the meaning of Section 7 of the Act. Accordingly, the Board affirmed the ALJ's decision ordering reinstatement of the discharged employees.
The employees who were discharged were discussing another employee who had often criticized the job performance of her coworkers. One of those employees initiated a discussion of the criticism online, and several other employees vented in a thread on Facebook. The discharged employees essentially stated that the criticism was unfair because of staffing and other concerns. The employee who was the target of the Facebook thread complained to Hispanics United's executive director, and after an investigation, the employees who engaged in the discussion were terminated for violated Hispanics United's harassment policy.
The Board stated that in determining whether rights under the Act are implicated, one must consider all of the facts and circumstances. Unfortunately, this directive does not offer much guidance for employers. Needless to say, employers must continue to be careful and must evaluate all available information before discharging an employee based on his or her social media activity.