Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Given the Sack Because of Facebook

We are all too familiar with Facebook – it is a popular platform of unprecedented scale and scope connecting just about everybody and everything. It is the rage because users can gripe, grouch and grumble as well as use it to send and receive updates and information – news, gossip, hearsay, and chat.

And so, I came across this intriguing news story (Webpage http://www.inc.com/news/articles/201109/judge-says-workers-cannot-be-fired-for-facebook-complaints.html, published September 07, 2011) when I was doing research on HRM issues. It is Facebook-related and it concerns how organizations view the conversations we have on this social networking site.

Anyway, in a first-of-its-kind decision, a National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled a New York nonprofit, i.e. Hispanics United of Buffalo – that provides social services to low-income clients – must re-hire five employees who were given their marching orders after complaining about their jobs on Facebook.

It all began on a Saturday morning, October 09, 2010, when one unhappy employee posted a comment to Facebook: "[A co-worker] feels that we don't help our clients enough at HUB. I about had it! My fellow co-workers: how do u feel?"

At 10:19 a.m., five minutes after the first post post, another co-worker posted: "What the f... Try doing my job; I have five programs."

According to documents sighted, a flurry of posts followed with co-workers defending their job performance, but criticizing working conditions, including workload and staffing issues. Within days, the Buffalo director of Hispanics United gave five employees on the thread the boot, alleging that their comments constituted harassment of the employee identified in the initial post. (The director spared her secretary, who also posted on the thread).

One of the five decided not to take this termination sitting down and took the complaint to the NLRB regional office. The latter called for a hearing based on the claim that Hispanics United had been "interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of rights" guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act.

Administrative Law Judge Arthur J Amchan said the employees' off-hours bitching about their working conditions was protected by the National Labor Relations Act – that theirs was a conversation among co-workers about the terms and conditions of employment, and that their conduct did not forfeit their protection under the law.

And so he instructed the nonprofit to reinstate the sacked employees and issue back pay because they were fired illegally. He further ordered Hispanics United to post a notice in Buffalo about employee rights under the Act.

Sure, Hispanics United has the right to appeal the decision to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington. But I am pleased to note that an individual’s right to self-expression is jealously guarded in the said country.

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