The National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ right to engage in certain group activity intended to improve pay and working conditions. What activities are protected is a matter of substantial dispute over the years. Protected concerted activity has been found in many forms. Changing times means new ways employees communicate concerns about their working conditions. Recent decisions by the National Labor Relations Board have tackled employees’ communications through YouTube, blogs and Facebook.
The NLRB recently ordered an employer restore two workers who had been fired for posts made to their individual Facebook pages. In addition, the employer was ordered to provide them with back pay, including taxes, and to cease the threat of legal action and other discipline against the workers. The two workers had used Facebook to complain about mistake made by the employer that caused them to be shorted on state withholding taxes. When the employees found out they were facing unexpected tax bills, they used Facebook to complain about the mistake. The employer fired them for their discussion.
An NLRB panel ruled that the Facebook discussions and posts were protected concerted activity. As such, the employer was forbidden from retaliating based on the comments. The decision also pointed out that the employer was not protected by its ban on social media commentary put forward in the employee handbook. The employer was ordered to remove the overly broad language from the handbook.
Employers benefit when workers are too afraid to discuss working conditions, including pay. Preventing such discussions can allow employers to break labor law with minimal risk of being caught. While employees are not allowed to engage in acts of sabotage or reckless behavior, concerted efforts to improve wages or working conditions are protected. More and more employees are likely to turn to social media in their efforts to discuss ways to improve their situation with their employers.
Source: People’s World, “NLRB protect Facebook time for workers” by Mark Gruenberg, 24 October 2014