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Social media policies: why you can't yell "fire" on the internet

By Ellen Frantz, Employment Lawyer, La Crosse WI on Thursday, March 24th 2016

Attorney Ellen Frantz received a call years ago from a man fired because of a photo posted of him and others on a coworker’s Facebook page.

After questions, he admitted they pretended to urinate on food produced by his company – while in work uniforms.

“Sorry,” she told him. “That’s a reputation issue for the company. There was nothing wrong with firing you for that.”

The situation illustrates the importance for companies to review their social media policies and for every worker to realize what they do on Facebook and Twitter may affect their careers.

“Policies should have guidelines about what they should or should not do,” Frantz said. “Employers should also state employees may not harass or bully coworkers via social media.”

Social media use is not a freedom of speech issue, she added. “Free speech always has limitations. You have the right to say whatever you want, but you cannot yell fire in a crowded theater.”

Could an employer be sued for disciplining or firing a worker for what was on that person’s Facebook page? The employee may find a remedy by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.   

“If you prohibit employees from using social media to talk about issues important to them at work, you may violate the National Labor Relations Act,” she said.

That’s true even if the business has no union. In the past, the NLRB became involved if an employer tried to suppress an employee’s right to hold meetings about work conditions or unionizing. Now “meetings” are held online through social media. That may mean the posts are protected – if they are about organizing and work conditions and not just gripes about the boss.

“Review your policies. This is a developing trend,” Frantz said. “The social media world is changing all the time.”

Information provided by Ellen Frantz, La Crosse Employment Lawyer in La Crosse WI. If you need a local employment lawyer, call her at 608-784-5678.

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