Social Networking Protected

January 31, 2013


Discussing Work on Social Networking Sites

Before they head out on an internship or become a summer associate, I’ve long warned business school and law school students to be extremely careful when posting anything on-line. A snarky comment made on a social networking site or an office email can easily be printed and become a part of an intern, summer associate or new hire’s permanent employee file. What’s more, recent history is replete with examples of job offers withdrawn or employees fired after a worker electronically posted an insensitive or inappropriate remark.

I’m sticking with my advice.

However, a series of recent rulings and advisories from the National Labor Relations Board suggest employees need not fear discussing work openly and freely. This holds true whether the communication takes place face-to-face, in front of the office coffeemaker, or on-line via a social networking site.

The labor board’s rulings apply to virtually all private sector employers. In general, they instruct employers to avoid adopting broad social media policies that discourage workers from communicating with each other if the purpose of those communications is to improve wages, benefits or working conditions. It’s no longer okay to ban “disrespectful’ comments or posts that criticize an employer. However, corporate policies that tell employees not to disclose trade secretes, product introduction dates or financial details still pass muster.

In the eight years since Facebook was launched, employers and their employees have struggled to develop policies that encourage communication while protecting underlying business interests. The NRLB’s rulings remind employers they can’t squelch all chatter. However, be forewarned on-line blabbermouths: You’re not free to post your every last thought. Employers maintain the right to control communications about core issues that are fundamental to the business.     

What Do You Need to Know?

No matter what the NLRB says about social networking, unless you're job involves tweeting or maintaining a Facebook fan page on behalf of your employer, don't talk about your job on social networking sites.



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