As more people create social media profiles, the potential for disputes between workers and their employers stemming from the use of these networks may intensify. Kansas City attorneys may even see some of these disputes head to civil court, local experts say.
In August 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) provided a detailed assessment of 14 investigations involving employee social media use and the relevant policies and reactions of their employer. While the report did not outline specific rules and best practices, it did provide some perspective into what kind of online behavior is acceptable for employees and what is not.
In instances where employees were discussing the "terms and conditions" of their employment with colleagues, their online actions and comments were considered protected. Remarks that could be considered disparaging to an employer and were not part of a conversation with fellow employees were often not protected.
For example, in one scenario in July 2010, five workers were fired for discussing "allegations of poor job performance" on Facebook. The NLRB determined their terminations were unlawful, because the Facebook discussions were initiated by one worker in an attempt to receive job assistance and input from other colleagues on how to handle a work dispute.
Even with the NLRB's input, the legality of employer response to social media behavior remains murky. At least one employment attorney in Kansas City says these regulations may continue to be some of most difficult to traverse.
"[Employers] have to make sure those policies, as written, do not violate the National Labor Relations Act," Kansas city attorney Jim Holland wrote for the Kansas City Star.
The complications may only grow as social media networks continue to gain in popularity. With more than 800 million active users, Facebook in particular has been a frequent point of contention in civil disputes between workers and employers.