Overly Broad Social Media Policies: Are Employers at Risk?


Many businesses have rushed to adopt Social Media policies as they become increasingly aware that their operations can be hurt by employees posting comments about their employers on Facebook and other sites. Social Media policies come in many shapes and sizes, but beware of the broad, overly-restrictive, and hastily-drafted Social Media policy. A broad policy may not have the intended effect, may ignore the potential for using Social Media to a company's advantage, or worse, the company may find itself on the defensive end of a lawsuit.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently filed a complaint against American Medical Response of Connecticut, Inc., an ambulance service, alleging that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) when it discharged an emergency medical technician for violating the company's Social Media policy. The policy in question sought to prevent employees from disparaging the company or its management, as well as prohibiting depiction of the company "in any way" on the Internet without the company's express permission.

The discharged employee posted vulgar comments on her Facebook page about her supervisor and criticized the company for its decision to make that person a supervisor in the first place - insinuating that the company allowed a psychiatric patient to be a supervisor. The Facebook posting drew comments from the employee’s co-workers, to which the employee responded.

The NLRA prohibits employers from disciplining employees for discussing working conditions, regardless of whether or not they are part of a union. The NLRB takes the position that the company’s broad Social Media policy, along with the discharge of the employee, violates the NLRA because the employee and her co-workers were simply discussing their working conditions.

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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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