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Federal regulators warn employers about social media policies

As we mentioned earlier this month on our San Diego employment law blog, social media users are protected under new employment laws that went into effect on Jan. 1 in California. Under new laws regarding social media use and employee privacy issues, it is now illegal for employers to request or require passwords and login information to have access to job applicants' and employees' personal social media accounts.

Although it may be illegal to request and require this information from workers and job applicants, some people are still concerned about what they put on their profiles or say about their employers on social media sites. Some people see no problem with complaining about a bad work day or poor work conditions on Facebook, but some still fear that they could be fired for saying something negative about their employer online.

Employees and job applicants should certainly avoid posting anything about employers on social media sites that may be false or completely inappropriate, but federal regulators are warning employers that they could face wrongful termination or retaliation lawsuits for firing employees over their comments that are posted on the Internet.

Under federal laws, workers are able to discuss work conditions, wages and other employment matters as long as employees do not breach confidentiality agreements. Since social media is another platform to openly discuss issues, some argue that employers cannot fire employees who voice concerns about workplace conditions or other employment issues online. And federal regulators seem to agree.

The National Labor Relations Board has been warning private sector employers to be careful with how they word their employee policies when it comes to social media use. Federal regulators believe that workers should be able to freely discuss workplace issues online without being fired or retaliated against. However, regulators do agree that in some situations, employers still have every right to legally fire employees who post negative comments on social media sites when the comments are considered to be personal venting and offensive.

For example, the NLRB agreed that a bartender was legally fired after he complained about his job on Facebook. The bartender was upset that he had not been given a raise and wrote about how he had hoped some of his customers would choke while driving home from the bar. Although the NLRB is warning employers to be more careful when drafting social media use policies, there are still no clear laws as to what employers can ban workers from writing on their personal social media sites.

Source: The New York Times, "Even if It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected," Steven Greenhouse, January 21, 2013

  • If you have recently been fired or retaliated against in the workplace because of what you posted online about your employer or your work conditions, your rights may have been violated. To learn more about protecting your rights in the workplace, you may want to consult an employment law attorney.