Home Free Speech on Facebook an Employee Right, Federal Agency Says

Free Speech on Facebook an Employee Right, Federal Agency Says

In an epoch of global privacy intrusion and free speech limitations, a court case by a U.S. federal agency borders on miraculous. The National Labor Relations Board has filed a federal complaint on behalf of a worker who was fired after criticizing her supervisor on Facebook.

Dawnmarie Souza, an emergency medical technician for American Medical Response of Connecticut, was let go when the company found her guilty of violating company policy that bars employees from depicting the company in a negative light on social media sites. The NLRB concluded the dismissal was unlawful.

The NLRB asserts that in accord with the National Labor Relations Act, social media activity concerning workplace environments, including personnel, constitute protected speech under the provisions of the First Amendment.

Previous thought regarding speech and employment has been much more restrictive. Given that most states have “at will” employment, employers in those states could fire anyone without explaining it and without allowing for free speech rights. Those rights only encompassed government workers. This case, however, is centered on the discussion of “working conditions,” part of which is the nature and judgment of the supervisors in a work place.

According to The New York Times, Ms. Souza used impolite language to insult her supervisor, who had not allowed her to enlist union help to prepare a response to a customer complaint.

American Medical Response of Connecticut has countered that Souza was let go only in part due to her Facebook posts and that there were many other reasons for the termination.

If the ruling goes in favor of the terminated EMT and the NLRB it could provide a precedent for future cases. However, it would be misleading to believe such a ruling would be a green light for everyone, said Alyssa Picard, Field Representative of the Michigan Federation of Teachers.

“(T)his particular speech was protected not as part of a general category of ‘comments on Facebook, which the employer may not look at or act on’ but in the specific category of ‘protected concerted activity.'”

But Mark Dilley, a former union organizer, thinks such a ruling would nevertheless be a step in the right direction.

“I think it is a progressive ruling, one that show an understanding of online spaces and how they are intertwined into working peoples lives.”

The NLRB will take the case before an Administrative Law Judge. That judge’s decisions may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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