In the past few days, the media has exploded with stories about employers regulating social media. The discussion stems from an article in the New York Times covering, frankly, old news. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent government agency that acts through the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to, among other things, limit employers control over employees’ use of social media to the extent such use relates to wages and/or working conditions. The NLRB has taken this position since at least August 2011 and continues to enforce its position through new decisions and additional guidance documents.
Social media has a huge impact on today’s employers. Facebook now has over 1 billion users each month – chances are that at least a portion of your workforce is logging into Facebook or another social media site either on or off the clock. Regardless of where the connection is occurring, employers are struggling to manage how their employees express themselves on their personal social media pages. Until recently, the wisdom in the human resources arena was to craft a social media policy which prohibited employees from disparaging the company or its employees online. However, beginning in August 2011, the NLRB began issuing a series of reports on employer social media policies and started cracking down on private employers stifling so-called protected speech (in a labor context).
The NLRA, which applies to virtually every private employer, provides all employees with a right to discuss wages and working conditions without the fear of retaliation by the employer. Thus, what was once a discussion that occurred around the water cooler has now shifted, and employees are expressing their pleasure or displeasure with their working conditions via social media. Recent NLRB decisions and guidance reports provide insight for employers and human resource managers.