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Are Employees Making Negative Comments on Social Media about their Jobs? Here’s What to Do

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For as long as people have had jobs, there have been complaints about those jobs. Most business owners understand a bit of employee griping around the water cooler can be a good way to reduce stress, as long as matters do not get out of control. No work environment is perfect and discussing the imperfections with others who can relate makes daily nuisances a little easier to deal with.

Unfortunately, employees sometimes take their complaints too far and doing so in social media forums is growing increasingly more popular. Instead of a five minute conversation with a co-worker about a troublesome policy or event, employees are posting their complaints on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media forums. This means at the least, the employee’s friends and followers will see the complaint – and in a worst case scenario, millions of clients and potential clients of your company might also see the negative comments.

What can be done to protect your company when it comes to social media and your employees?

Many business owners are surprised to learn how little action is permitted once the damage is done. In many cases, disciplining an employee for a social media rant violates federal labor law and can result in a civil complaint being filed against you by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). You need to be very careful what action you take when an employee says negative things about your business, even when those comments seem well over the line.

The number of formal complaints brought before the NLRB over social media related firings is on the rise and in about half of all cases reviewed by the Board, a civil complaint is issued. Even in instances where employees are name calling and saying inappropriate things about their employer, an employer’s hands might be tied.

Federal Law Protects Employee Action and Speech

Federal law makes it illegal for employers to discipline employees for what is known as “protected concerted activity. Workers, union and non-union, are entitled to discussion with one another about their working conditions. They also have the right to take action to improve their work environment and speak on behalf of co-workers. If something posted on social media fits into one of these categories, it might be protected.

What employees are not permitted to do is say anything threatening. They must also tread carefully when they are just complaining in general without any effort to improve working conditions or speak on behalf of co-workers. Obviously in the latter case, the intention of the message or post can be subjective.

In addition to the intention of the post or message, the subject matter is also important. For instance, an employee would be protected if he or she complained about a supervisor’s management style, but if he or she made disparaging comments about the supervisor’s spouse or children, there would be no protection. Social media comments are only protected when they are clearly work related. Additionally, much of whether or not the employer has a right to take action against the employee depends on the wording of the employer’s social media policy, which is why it is important to craft a solid policy right from the start.

If you are an employer and you would like to create a social media policy for employees to help you avoid many of these scenarios, we can help. We can also offer advice in instances when comments have been made and an employer or employee is unsure whether or not his or her rights were violated. For more information, contact Miller and Steiert, P.C.

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