Looks like executives need to start paying more attention to the nuances of employee social media activity. And that should go for finance executives, as much as any other top manager in a company.
How come? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently filed a complaint against an ambulance company, American Medical Response of Connecticut, saying the firm illegally fired an employee for comments she made on Facebook. Seems the woman's supervisor had asked her to prepare an investigative report about a customer complaint concerning her work, according to an NLRB press release . When the employee asked for union representation, her request was denied, and the employee later posted negative remarks about the supervisor on her Facebook page. That, in turn, inspired further negative responses from her friends.
Later, the company suspended and fired the employee for making those comments, on the grounds that she had violated the terms of the company's blogging and Internet posting policy. The complaint describes the policy as prohibiting employees from making disparaging, discriminatory or defamatory comments when discussing the company or the employees' superiors, co-workers and/or competitors, and from posting pictures in any media without prior approval.
But the NLRB found that employee criticism of employers made on Facebook or other social media can't be prohibited if it violates the employee's right to engage in "protected concerted activity." That includes union activity, but also any attempts by two or more employees to improve working conditions, including such topics as wages and benefits.
Of course, this is just a complaint, not a final decision. There's a hearing scheduled for Jan. 25, 2011. But in the meantime, Wendy Stryker, a lawyer in the employment group of Frankfurt Kurnit, recommends you tread carefully when addressing employees' social media communications. At the least, your company should take a look at your social media policies and you should act cautiously if there's a possibility employee comments relate to "protected concerted activity."