Recently, a federal Judge ruled that five employees who were fired for making derogatory comments about their employers on their Facebook page must be reinstated to their jobs.
It is not enough for an organization to have a social media policy according to John Theriault’s article Social Media at Work.
The employees made defamatory remarks about the organization on their Facebook pages so it was not surprising that the employees were fired. But the National Labor Relations Board viewed the remarks differently and ruled in favor of the fired employees. The Judge determined that the Facebook posts could be interpreted as an effort by the employees to improve their work conditions. WoW! So the posting became “protected speech” under the National Labor Relations Act (Section 7). Another factor influencing the Judge’s decision to reinstate the employees was several individuals were who worked for the organization were involved in the online conversations.
So what can businesses do to protect themselves from malicious postings by employees on social media sites? Comments can be made by disgruntled employees that can destroy a reputation that you worked a lifetime to build.
- First, while having a social media policy is not the end-all, companies need a clearly defined social media policy. This policy should be communicated to all employees, and they should sign a statement that the policy has been read and understood.
- Employees need to understand that all work-related comments on social media sites are not protected, and they can be held responsible for their online comments. They need to be made aware that nothing is private online. Many people have friended people they work with or go to church with, and posts considered private are likely to get back to the workplace.
- Managers need to be trained in appropriate actions to take to limit the amount of damage from negative comments made on social media sites. These problems are occurring more often as social media evolves and the lines between work and home become more blurred. Instead of responding in anger, managers need to know what steps they can take to contain the negative remarks and/or how to post rebuttals when appropriate.
Students need to be taught the dangers of social media. Students need to be made aware that while on occasion Judges have ruled on behalf of employees, there are many examples of people who have recently lost their job because of careless comments made on social media sites. These individuals include powerful politicians and famous athletes as well as teachers, comedians, and pizza restaurant workers. See more about famous employees fired for social media comments here.