Can criticizing the boss on Facebook get you fired? PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 11 November 2010 11:10

FacebookInformation may want to be free, as the old Internet adage goes--but how far does such freedom extend when it comes to criticizing your boss on social media platforms?

That's the question that the  National Labor Relations Board ( in the United States)  is putting before an administrative law court. NLRB lawyers are contending that a Connecticut-based ambulance service illegally fired an emergency medical technician after she criticized her supervisor on Facebook, the New York Times reports.  The case could have broad implications for workers' speech rights as applied to social media.

According to the complaint, Dawnmarie Souza was fired after using vulgarities to ridicule her supervisor in a Facebook post.  Souza also wrote, using the company's terminology for a psychiatric patient: "Love how the company allows a 17 to become a supervisor."
Souza and the supervisor had clashed after the supervisor would not let a union representative help her to prepare a response to a customer's complaint about her work.

The company, American Medical Response, says it has a policy that bars employees from depicting the company on Facebook and other social media sites on which they post pictures of themselves.

The NLRB argues that the rule is overly broad--and that the firing of Souza violates the National Labor Relations Act, which, among other things, prohibits employers from punishing workers for discussing working conditions or unionization. The complaint notes that the comments triggered supportive responses from Souza's co-workers, as well as additional negative comments about the supervisor.

"This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act," a lawyer for the NLRB told the Times. "Whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that."

But American Medical Response said the firing was proper.

"The employee in question was discharged based on multiple, serious complaints about her behavior," the company said in a statement. "The employee was also held accountable for negative personal attacks against a co-worker posted publicly on Facebook. The company believes that the offensive statements made against the co-workers were not concerted activity protected under federal law."

An administrative law judge will begin hearing the case Jan. 25.

By ZACHARY ROTH