Restricting Employees' Internet Conduct May Violate Federal Labor Law

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The rise of social media websites has created a host of challenges for employers. An employee’s post about his or her job can lead to claims of defamation or harassment by co-workers or may reveal confidential information. For these and other reasons, employers are taking steps to regulate what employees can and cannot do on the Internet. The recent issuance of a complaint by the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) against an ambulance company, however, is a reminder that efforts by employers to police employees’ posts on social media websites may run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act, the federal labor law. Although federal labor law never before has been applied to social media sites, the General Counsel alleged in the complaint that the company’s blogging and Internet policy was illegal and that the company unlawfully fired an employee for posting critical comments about a supervisor on her personal Facebook site.

According to the complaint, the company maintained a blogging and Internet policy that prohibited employees from posting pictures of themselves which depict the company, its logo or its ambulances and from “making disparaging, discriminatory or defamatory comments when discussing the Company or the employee’s superiors, co-workers and/or competitors.” Because the NLRB has long held that employees have the right under federal labor law to criticize their employer, the General Counsel alleged that this policy was unlawful.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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