In a recent decision involving employee social media activity, the National Labor Relations Board held that a high-end clothing boutique in San Francisco violated the National Labor Relations Act when it terminated employees who complained on Facebook about working late at night in an unsafe neighborhood. The Board also found that a policy in the employer’s handbook prohibiting disclosure of wage and compensation information was unlawful.
The employees at issue in Bettie Page Clothing (pdf) raised concerns to the store manager and others about the store’s hours, which required that the employees close the store after dark. The employees were concerned about being harassed by "street people" after closing up. When the employees’ internal complaints were not successful in having the store hours changed, the employees criticized the store manager during multiple discussions on Facebook. Shortly after the posts, the employees were terminated.
The employees filed a complaint with the Board challenging their terminations. The Board affirmed the decision of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), holding that the employees’ complaints and sarcastic remarks about the store manager on Facebook were a discussion about the terms and conditions of employment. The Board stated that the discussions about the manager’s refusal to address their concerns over store hours were "classic" concerted protected activities, and therefore, the employees’ terminations based on those discussions were unlawful. The Board ordered the employees reinstated.
In addition, the Board affirmed the decision of the ALJ finding that the policy in the employer’s handbook that prohibited the disclosure of wage and compensation information violated Section 7 of the Act. The Board ordered the employer to rescind the policy.
As we have discussed in the past, the Board continues to take a hard line when it comes to employee discipline for social media activity. The Board has made clear its position that discussions on Facebook are the equivalent to discussions around the water cooler, but I am not sure I agree. For example, discussions around the water cooler typically do not create electronic records and have a worldwide audience. Only time will tell whether the Board’s decisions in this area will be affirmed by the courts.
Please also keep in mind that it appears that the Board has been reviewing employer policies with increased scrutiny. If you haven’t done so already, it is a good time to proactively review your policies to ensure compliance with the Act.