February 8, 2011
A Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee for posting negative Facebook comments about her boss has agreed to a settlement, resolving a controversial case in labor law.
In October, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against American Medical Response (AMR) of Connecticut over the firing of employee Dawnmarie Souza, CNN Money reported. A hearing for the case was scheduled for this week. The case attracted popular attention for its attempt to set legal limits on employers' Internet policies.
According to the NLRB, AMR's Internet posting policy was "overly broad" and "contained unlawful provisions." The complaint identified a specific company policy that prohibited employees from posting negative comments on the Internet about the company or its employees. In particular, the NLRB claimed that policy violated the National Labor Relations Act, which gives employees the right to discuss "the terms and conditions of their employment with others."
"There's a strong argument that social networks are like a public forum, an invitation to conversation," Marshall B. Babson, a lawyer who served on the NLRB during the Reagan administration, told Bloomberg.
Under the terms of the settlement, AMR will revise its rules to ensure that they do not prevent employees from talking about wages, hours and working conditions with coworkers and others while not at work. In addition, the company vowed not to discipline or fire employees for engaging in such discussions, the NLRB said in a statement.
Some experts agree with the NLRB's criticisms of employee rights to voice discontent with employers.
"To what extent may an employer demand that its employees not disparage it in public?" said Michael Eastman, executive director of labor-law policy with the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, in an interview before the agreement. "Will all such employer policies be rendered obsolete when it comes to social media?"
With respect to the details of the case, the NLRB alleged that AMR illegally denied Souza union representation during an investigatory interview, The Wall Street Journal noted. Souza later posted a negative remark about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page from her home computer. The comment drew supportive responses from her coworkers and led to even more negative comments from the employee.
Other terms of the settlement with NLRB include the company's promise that employee requests for union representation will not be rejected in the future and that employees will not be threatened with discipline for asking for union representation.
Compiled by Alexander Gong
"American Medical Settles Case in Facebook Dismissal," bloomberg.com, February 7, 2011, Stephanie Armour
"Facebook Firing Case Is Settled," online.wsj.com, February 8, 2011, Melanie Trottman
"Facebook firing test case settled out of court," money.cnn.com, February 8, 2011, Julianne Pepitone