Earlier this year, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released a report outlining the types of limitations businesses can place on their employees’ use of social media. This is its first comprehensive set of standards establishing clear guidelines.
The NLRB is responsible for upholding Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) which protects the rights of ALL employees to freely discuss aspects of their employment with others. And that protection extends to Facebook and other social media. It’s important to be sure your social media policies do not violate employees’ rights under Section 7 — to communicate or work together in “concerted activities” for the purpose of collective bargaining or to improve working conditions or terms of employment.
The NLRB’s primary areas of concern appear to be maintaining employees’ ability to engage in “protected concerted activity” and preventing “surveillance” of such activity by employers. What this means is that employers who discipline or terminate an employee based on a social media posting that the NLRB finds to be “protected concerted activity” (such as a Facebook conversation among employees about their pay) may be violating Section 7.
Simply adding a disclaimer stating that your policy does not interfere with employees’ rights under the NLRA is not sufficient, as General Motors discovered when the NLRB found the company’s policy to be unlawful. The fact that GM would be so cited by the NLRB shows how tricky social media policies can be.
It is important to remember that, while employers do have the right to restrict their employees’ use of social media, we must be prepared to accept the fact that we may read information in social media we would rather not see.
To be proactive in preventing social media-related problems from arising among your staff, implementing a social media policy is an excellent first step. For a sample social media policy that has been suggested by the NLRB, go to http://www.birnbachsuccesssolutions.com/sites/default/files/Social Media Policy.pdf
And remember that it is unlawful to interfere with employees’ rights to communicate with one another about the conditions or terms of their employment – whether around the coffee machine or in social media.