In a Wall Street Journal copyrighted article at http://tinyurl.com/88h2q2h, organizations learn that under certain circumstances angry employees can say almost anything they wish against their past or current employer with impunity.
If the employer acts against the employee, the organization may face charges from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
According to what appears to be a supplement to the Melanie Trottman article, the AdvisenFPN version of the copy appends the following:
Companies are facing a growing number of civil charges over disciplinary actions spurred by online comments from employees. Following are the National Labor Relations Board's guidelines on what workers and employers are allowed to do on social media:
Protected employee behavior -- things employees should be allowed to do without being fired:
-- Workers discussing with each other pay or other workplace conditions, or an individual speaking on behalf of other workers about, or with the intention, to improve workplace conditions. The key is there has to be group activity, in intention or result. It is described under the law as "protected concerted activity."
-- Name-calling -- depending on the word used and the context -- that doesn't involve physical or verbal threats.
Unprotected employee behavior -- things that could get an employee disciplined or fired:
-- Mere griping solely by and on behalf of oneself, with no evidence of intended or actual group action to improve working conditions.
-- Physical or verbal threats against an employer or co-worker, depending on the context.
Unlawful employer behavior:
-- Maintaining a company policy that restricts workers' rights to discuss online with co-workers their wages and other working conditions.
-- Firing an employee for engaging in protected concerted behavior.
So, if a disgruntled employee calls a manager a "scumbag" in the course of an exchange with fellow workers, and if someone replies in any manner, the employee apparently is protected by the NLRB.
It seems to me - and I must add this caveat: "I am not a lawyer and I don't play one on tv" - that the specific person who is maligned - calling a person a "scumbag" is hardly a compliment - ought to, with perhaps assistance from the employer, file a civil complaint against the name caller.
The right of free speech is an important part of the American way, but libel and slander still are actionable.
For all that, organizations of all types should have policies and procedures in place clearly setting forth what is acceptable and expected behavior of people employed - at any level - by the organization. These policies and procedures must
- Be vetted by qualified legal counsel, that is, lawyers specializing in HR issues
- Be read, and understanding acknowledged, by all employees, regardless of position within the organization, from Most Senior Executive to newest intern and contractors/consultants.
If there is a problem in the organization and an employee, for whatever reason, "goes public" with it on so-called social media, it behooves management to examine the complaint to see if it has merit. At the same time, it seems appropriate to act against libel and slander.
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