Business owners in Colorado are likely aware of how important it can be to protect certain elements of a business. The reputation and success of a company can be significantly damaged if an employee unlawfully distributes trade secrets or releases statements that disparage managers, bosses and even other co-workers. Unfortunately, it is easier than ever for people to disseminate these viewpoints and pieces of information online and on various social media sites.
This is why it is often crucial for a company to adopt and enforce effective and legally-acceptable social media policies. It can be very challenging for a business owner to develop a policy that protects the company without infringing on a person's rights. Some of these policies that have been developed by companies are either overly vague or too restrictive and this can have a serious impact the actions that an employer may take against an employee believed to be in violation of the policies.
The National Labor Relations Board has stated that workers have the right to discuss various matters related to working conditions without being at risk of getting fired for such discussions. However, if a person posts disparaging or damaging commentary about their employer on a personal Facebook account, can an employer take action if those statements are in violation of a social media policy?
There is no definitive answer to this question. There are many factors that must be considered. For example, if the statements were made as part of a concerted activity addressing workplace conditions, benefits or wages, it is likely that the employee is protected from any sort of disciplinary actions. However, if the person is ranting on Facebook about a job, using offensive language and is in no way participating in a concerted activity about working conditions, the NLRB has previously upheld the actions of an employer who has fired the individual.
It can be very confusing for an employer to understand his or her rights when it comes to dealing with the social media behaviors of employees. In order to avoid having to make these types of decisions, it is important for a business owner to adopt and enforce a strong, effective and enforceable social media policy. They can then understand both their rights and their limitations when it comes to informing their workers of what is and is not acceptable behavior.
Source: The New York Times, "Even if It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected," Steven Greenhouse, Jan. 21, 2013
- Our Denver law firm works with employers and employees who are dealing with issues related to discrimination, wrongful termination and harassment. For more information, please visit our page on Employment Law.