Does It Violate The Law To Fire Someone For Their Facebook Comments?

from the just-might... dept

Michael Scott points us to a discussion highlighting a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that suggests companies cannot fire employees for things like complaining about their boss on Facebook. The NLRB apparently stated that such complaining about the boss is a “protected concerted activity” under the NLRA. It’s been a long time since I was up-to-date on my labor law knowledge (even though I do have a degree in the subject), but this seems like a pretty extreme ruling. If people were fired for actually using Facebook to organize collective action, I could understand it, but it’s not really clear that just bitching about your boss really qualifies. That said, it’s not clear that it’s particularly smart to (a) bitch about your boss on Facebook where they might see it or (b) for a company to react by firing any employee who does that. Neither move makes that much sense. The company definitely seems to be overreacting, but to stretch that to say it’s a violation of the law doesn’t make much sense.

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Companies: facebook

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Comments on “Does It Violate The Law To Fire Someone For Their Facebook Comments?”

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Rabbit80 says:

Having been on the receiving end of some rather unpleasant comments on facebook, I can see where there are situations where a boss may wish to take disciplinary action against employees. For example – if a group of workers form a facebook group and use it to intimidate another employee – this can obviously cause distress for that employee, as well as bring the company into disrepute (Which has been considered to be serious misconduct in every place I have worked for the past 15 years – and can lead to instant dismissal!)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well there should be a difference between an employee saying “my boss sucks” and a group of employees intimidating or harassing another employee via facebook. Adopting a policy staying that anything dealing with online social networks needs to not interfere with work and that provided things said there wont cause major conflict and disruption of work then no action is needed but should conflict occur then action may be taken by the company to prevent this disruption of work.

This lets the employee and their boss say what they want outside of work and should it come into work and affect performance or cause other issues then some form of action could be taken. If the boss or employees can’t handle what another employee might say about them online maybe they shouldn’t friend that person or whatever may be the case. Of course in a case like yours simply not friending someone wouldn’t be an option and would have to be handled as an issue like that arose.

Rabbit80 says:

Re: Re: Re:

How about comments along the lines of:
“[Company Name] are crap to work for. [Bosses name] is a perv – he’s always groping me…”

Comments such as those above – especially when unjustified – can cause a lot of problems when made in public, especially if the person making those comments encourages others to do so as well!

I’m not saying that firing the employee is always the correct action, but on top of other misdemeanours, publicly slandering the company and / or your boss can easily be considered to be gross misconduct and earn a dismissal from the company. I’m not sure too many companies would be overly bothered by a simple “My boss is a wanker” comment!

Bengie says:

Slippery Slope

If you ware going to bitch about someone, it should be limited to factual information that doesn’t contain company secrets and let the reader do the rest.

EG. Might not be good to just post name calling crap and be like “my boss is a bastard and I hope he dies in a fire”

Should be more specific with little name calling and be more like “My boss is making me do work well above and beyond what I should be and he refuses to hire on more people. I’m being over worked”

Facts are not slanderous and as long as they don’t have company secrets, well…I’m not sure how a company could fire you unless they have an agreement that lets them fire you for anything.

I know my warehouse job would let me be fired for anything. They didn’t need a reason.

My current programming job requires a reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just because Facebook has become so popular, it seems that its use in the workplace is being defended more and more. I’ve even read articles on TD about use of FB actually increasing productivity. But when talking with other employers about the subject, FB is always looked at negatively. We had (notice the tense) one employee who, after we blocked FB, would use proxy sites to access FB. So we blocked a few hundred proxy sites, and still this jerkoff would find really obscure proxies just to be able to use FB. These proxies just look like the type of sites that would be riddled with malware and viruses.

For a small business in a small community where everybody knows everybody, it is very disconcerting to hear “water cooler talk” about this or that employee posting complaints to FB about work. One one hand we don’t want an employee that bashes work on FB, but on the other, we don’t want to draw negative attention by firing the employees who do so…

…which brings me to my point… The employees who post negative updates about their work to FB are likely less than model employees in the first place. If there is ever a definitive court ruling on the legality of firing based solely on FB use or slander, look for companies to use this as a way to shed unwanted workers.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> So we blocked a few hundred proxy sites, and still this jerkoff
> would find really obscure proxies just to be able to use FB.

Jesus, why didn’t he just get an iPhone or something and bypass the company system altogether?

That’s what I do. I don’t do Facebook, but my agency blocks about every fourth site on the internet. It’s ridiculous. So whenever there’s something I want to see, I just pull out the phone and it’s there in seconds.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Why is everyone defending the boss?

Everyone bitches about their boss, and everyone knows it, including the boss. Finding out that someone called you a jerk or an asshole is not the end of the world, you don’t need to fire them. Just keep your eye on them, if they’re becoming a detriment to the office, fire them for that. Keep an eye on yourself, they may call you an asshole for a legitimate reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

If everything is the media, then posting on facebook is the equivalent of answering a reporters questions on TV or in print. It is a public statement, like it or not.

If you want to keep something private, use private methods (email, face to face discussion). Posting it in a place where more than one person can see it pretty much makes it public.

The employee made their own bed on this one.

wnyght (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So facebook can’t be private? If I email all my contacts and with a message that says my boss is a jerk, how is that different than posting to facebook wall where my friends, aka my contacts, can all collectively read it?

And before you jump on the whole facebook is public, email is private, blah blah blah… my facebook is set to private so only my friends can see.

Moral of the story here… Facebook is only public if you want it to be.

Rob says:

"At will"

If you’re employed ‘at will,’ they don’t really need a reason, facebook or not.

However, to fire someone on the basis of what you read on facebook is probably not a good idea. (Replacing a competent employee is more expensive than keeping them.) At least don’t act without some independent confirmation of the legitimacy and accuracy of what you think you’ve read.

Also, there’s no expectation that what someone posts on facebook is true, so tales of immoral and criminal exploits (e.g.) might just be fiction cooked up to entertain friends.

For that matter, you might have the wrong guy (or an impostor). You also risk getting information grossly out of context. If someone were to post something to a friend’s wall, and they share with “friends of friends,” then a friend of the employee (co-worker or boss) might only see a portion of the exchange, distorting the message in who-knows-what kind of way. My father-in-law saw something I posted on a friend’s wall, and out of context it appeared that I called his wife ugly and his daughter (my wife) stupid. Since he’s an in-law, I haven’t done anything to disabuse him of this notion, since it just means I’ll be hearing from him less — whereas with a boss I’d have to explain.

Letting a good employee go without considering those things would be a Bad Idea(TM).

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: "At will"

That is why we have to get rid of that ’employment at will’ bullplop and start making businesses give a REASON before they are allowed to fire someone and also have a public organization reviewing these things if the person who was fired wishes that.

Employment ‘at will’ allows businesses to treat their employees like SLAVES and terrify them into not asking for things like better wages, better insurance, etc.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: "At will"

> making businesses give a REASON before they are allowed to fire
> someone and also have a public organization reviewing these things

Oh, baloney. The last thing we need is another panel of government bureaucrats running our lives for us.

If I want to fire someone, that’s my call. It’s my business. I’m the one who sweats blood funding it, working my ass off to make it successful, and if there’s someone working for me that I don’t like, they’re gone. As long as I’m not doing it based on their race, religion or gender, then it’s none of the government’s business why I fired them.

Michial Thompson (user link) says:

A company has a right

In traditional little mikee fashion he picks a paragraph out of a book and makes a mountain out of it without context.

JUST bitching about the boss is no big deal, and honestly it’s doubtful that that alone would get someone fired. BUT dragging a companies image down with that bitching is more than enough to fire someone.

ALL companies have unhappy employees, but as a company owner I don’t want or need my employees out airing that laundry publicly. I would not hesitate to fire someone for talking about internal issues publicly.

First off my company deals with a lot of confidential information, having my employees running off at the mouth about work issues only serves to diminish my customer’s confidences that the very same employee isn’t running off at the mouth about their information too.

Facts are most states are “At Will Employment” states and no reason is needed for terminating employment, and my guess is that no business would say “you posted such and such so your fired.” So back up the claim that they were fired for a facebook post, then back up the claim that it was ONLY about the boss and did not involve company business. Add a little credibility here…

Barry says:

I think most people tend to become more liberal with what they’re willing to post on Facebook, the longer they use the service. That being said, most people are still in the dark as to exactly how public Facebook is even with their privacy settings. I hear “Only my friends can see it” and it makes me want to cringe. I think of the scene in Wayne’s World where everyone keeps telling two friends.

This might not be news to many people here, but chances are when you have 500+ friends on Facebook you’re not actually “friends” with many of them. You also don’t know who they know.

Here’s an example:

Sally is a physician’s assistant so she has access to a very large amount of very private information about an extremely varied group of people. Sally has a boss, Dr. Smith who recently took an extended vacation and is making Sally work on her day off to catch up with patients. One patient is crotchety old Mr. Jones with an inverted rectum that Sally has stuff back in… again. now Sally can complain 4 different ways; 1, Sally can have a private conversation with one or more friends in person and say “Damn Dr. Smith is making work over time and it’s all nasty stuff.” 2, she can be specific and say “Dr. Smith is making me come in on Saturday to push back in Steve Jone’s withered rectum again.” 3 and 4, she can post 1 or 2 on Facebook.

I would argue that scenarios 1 and 3 are fine but 1 is definitely less likely to cause trouble due to it’s small sampling of “friends.” Scenario 2 would always get you fired if someone happened to know the patient and complain. Sally could claim that she was just venting about her boss but she let a little too much info loose. Scenario 4 is almost guaranteed to get back to someone and should definitely be grounds for dismissal. I would fear that with the precedent set that Sally was merely complaining about her boss, there might be more gray area when it comes to the release of private information.

MAC says:


Would you tell a reporter for say the “Times” that your boss is a jerk, your company sucks and upper management does not know what they are doing?

Of course not, someone might see it and then you would get fired.

So, posting the same on Facebook which has an audience hundreds of times larger than the Times makes sense?

Stupid, stupid, stupid…

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Stupidity...

Yes, I would. Why? Because it is a PROTECTED FIRST AMENDMENT THING, and many businesses have tried doing what you describe…. and gotten POUNDED IN THE ASS WITH A SPIKED STICK by local laws, forbidding that stuff, unless someone LIES about the work conditions.

To be blunt, we need less protection of the businesses…. and more of the worker, who has INFINITELY less power than ANY Wal-Mart or Sears.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Stupidity...


Unless you work for the government, the 1st Amendment has no application to a private company’s personnel actions.

You have no free speech rights vis a vis another private person or entity. Conversely a private company is not bound by the 1st Amendment when it decides whom to hire and fire.

jsf (profile) says:

Labor relations law is actually pretty tricky and an employer has to be careful about your work rules, and what they say to or about an employee.

In this case employees having a discussion about work conditions on Facebook definitely is a protected concerted activity. Labor law and many prior judicial precedents spell this out pretty clearly. It all goes back to the first amendment freedom of speech thing. The method or location of the discussion do not matter. Many businesses do NOT understand this. Particularly non-union employers.

In this specific case the companies internet policies limit the “location” of protected discussions. To then use this as an excuse to discipline or terminate someone will get you in trouble with the NLRB.

In a true “at will” situation the smart thing to do is not give a reason for terminating someone. if you can. Union contracts have a big effect on this because you have to give good reason for termination to avoid union backlash. But even in non-union situations companies get themselves into trouble on this all the time because they often want to have a reason for contesting unemployment payments.

D0M says:

My 2 cents

If the comment is related to your work place then its work related and can have disciplinary consequences.

If the comment is a death threat or name calling or defacement of someone then it is unlawful.

Its simple. Keep your complaints to your self or go through proper chains to file a complaint like your HR department. Making the issue public to the world has consequences. If you can not resolve issues through proper chains then find another job.

This of course is a 2 way road. Your boss can not deface or threaten you publicly.

Christopher (profile) says:

Not a pretty extreme ruling. Imagine: a boss puts comments that are not from you on your Facebook page or elsewhere by stealing your identity.

This is this organization trying to head off people being fired for having LEGITIMATE GRIPES WITH and or VENTING about their business at home or online.

To DOM…. no, it is NOT that simple, to be blunt. File a complaint through your HR department? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! That’s even more asking to be fired!

The fact is that it is time for these companies to realize that if you have unhappy employees…. YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING WRONG!

Whether you find out about that through a lawsuit or through Facebook doesn’t matter!

harky112 (profile) says:

Re: firing over facebook?

I just today got fired because of my facebook status. The owner is my friend on there, but i DID NOT single an individual out and i DID NOT slander the business in anyway. I was venting about a co-worker that had said she was going to cover for me, then changed her mind @ 10:30pm. It was approved by managers… whatever. She lied to not work when really she was partying. ANYWAYS…

This is what I said… (i was mad)

“Seriously… Ppl need to get their stories straight. You think I’m an idiot or something? You’re NOT that stupid. Fml. Well working a double tmrw! Over joyed!!
Dear female who said she word work for me in the morning and now can’t @ 10:30pm,
Fuck you and your made up stories
Sincerely, co-worker that knows your lying”

The owner seen it and I was fired this morning. Let me also add that I’m not friends with the new girl that works there either. She can’t see anything.
I NEED SOME INPUT!! lol Is that even legal?It’s also freedom of speech… right??

A country based on freedoms says:

Re: Re: firing over facebook?

This might be a little late but try and contact the owner and explain that you understand he/she is trying to protect her employees but something said over facebook is not his/her concern and that your position in your workplace should be returned. Also you might try forwarding them the link to this page.

Lori (user link) says:

I did this

I stupidly posted on my facebook wall that I was frustrated because my company was forcing me to spam people and the technology sucked and some one told my boss but they were forcing me to spam and I have documentation that we were being told to cease and desist and I might have documentation that he told me to go ahead and ignore, but he dead tell me to ignore it and send email to the people who complained anyway and not to stop. And he’s mad and I think he might fire me.

michelle miller (profile) says:

husband terminated after a wife made a facebook post

my husband was escorted off the job like a criminal and terminated by the vice president of a telecommunication company after my facebook post: Pissed off! If people in the office did their job right then we wouldn’t have problems!!!! the vp thought to be meant for the company. it was not.he commented back on my post by saying:
Dean Patesays Really?? You should be grateful not hateful! I don’t appreciate your advertising and now all favors for the Millers are gone! Good luck and don’t call me looking for a way out again when things get right!
February 14 at 12:24pm via mobile. he then started sending text messages to my husband telling him to get a handle on me or get out. also telling him he was going to get the dogs on him and that the bashing of his company on facebook was direct disrescept. text messages were sent to myself as well telling me it was my fault my husband was unemployed and how he dont give a fuck about us. so as you read my post and the post made by the vice president of the company I ask you from the soup line what can I or my husband do?
please keep in mind that 37+ comments were added by others adding to and willing to help fight my husband to secure a promotion.

February 15 near Boise, ID via mobile
A word of wisdom for all employees and their families…

“If you take a shot at the king….you had better kill him”!

I am still the King and until Wall at says differently, I will rule how I see fit. If you chose to bad mouth my kingdom on FB and other public channels, you will suffer under my crown!

We work hard to provide opportunity for you to feed your families and direct disrespect will not go unnoticed or unpunished. When you are in the soup line then and only them do you have the right to bad mouth Focus and me personally.


Curiosity killed the cat says:

an e-mail to another via FB

Can a boss terminate an employee due to co-workers having a beef with one another, and away from the workplace another left (this troubling co-worker, one who is harassing all the others, basically) an email calling her out on this? The co-worker in question said it was done publicly (but that is not the case–if she’s the one sharing the info, and it was sent for her eyes only)

MADasHELL (profile) says:

I was also called into my bosses office today and threatened with termination because of a Facebook post.

Mind you, I have NEVER had any disciplinary actions against me, I have been a model employee with Excellent annual performance evaluations.

my personal Facebook page that is set to private, and does not even mention where I work, or what I do for a living.

I ranted I was tired of this place, and that I was gonna look for a new job, and another post said I was tired of liars and backstabbers and I wanted to find another way to make money besides working for someone else.

I was called into bosses office and told I was either going to be terminated, or suspended.

If she suspended me, I was going to have to write an APOLOGY LETTER to my boss and put in my HR file.

I need legal advice. I didn’t mention anyone by name, no employer information was disclosed, and I vented my personal feelings…

Is it legal for the employer to suspend me for this, or terminate my employment?

concerned wife (profile) says:

my opinion

This is really going to far. My husband and I share a FB account and his coworkers and bosses know this and we have for years. A few days ago I posted something that I was pissed about that they were doing. I never mentioned any specific names just allured to them, and safety issues with the company and now the have screen shot it and are looking at suspending him for 4 weeks or firing him Monday. They say it depends on what I have to say when I go up there. They also know that it was Me and not him since during business hours he only has the company FLIP phone and they have NEVER taken data minutes for the internet out of his check.

That’s really what started this was a freakn Check Stub that payroll claims they can not provide of this weeks out of town pay.

I mean really you know he has no internet while at work and you are going to punish him for the actions of someone else.

Nick says:

"At will"

wow one of those bosses….the guy who thinks he does everything and his employees are leaches…. no, your employees are the reason for your success, their hard work made you money and supports you. You are a terrible boss and I’m sure your employees agree. Maybe try to be less an self absorbed egomaniac with his head firmly shoved up his rectum? Maybe you dont get along with employees because of YOUR personality flaws? Because dude, if a problem keeps repeating itself, the problem is not with other people. The Problem is YOU.

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