Employee use of social media remains at the forefront of issues at the National Labor Relations Board. Coming on the heels of the NLRB General Counsel’s decision to issue a complaint against an employer who fired an employee for her postings on Facebook (the first time such on-line activities were considered “protected, concerted activity” by the Agency), the NLRB’s Division of Advice recently issued an Advice Memorandum stating that an employer did not violate the National Labor Relations Act when it terminated an employee for writing “unprofessional and inappropriate” comments on his personal Twitter account.
In early 2010, a “crime and safety beat” reporter for the Arizona Daily Star began posting a series of controversial tweets on his Twitter account – which he independently operated and controlled although it identified him as a reporter for the Daily Star. His Tweets commented on both his manager’s and his own views of crime (and crime reporting) in Tuscon, including:
- “The Arizona Daily Star’s copy editors are the most witty and creative people in the world. Or at least they think they are.”
- “What?!?!? No overnight homicide? WTF? You’re slacking Tucson.”
- “Suggestion for new Tucson-area theme song: Droening [sic] pool’s ‘let the bodies hit the floor.’”
- In response to a misspelling in a tweet by a Tucson-area television news station: “Um, I believe that’s PEDAL. Stupid TV people.”
After the tweet about the paper’s copy editors, the reporter was instructed that, even though the Daily Star did not have a formal social media policy, in the future he was “prohibited from airing his grievances or commenting about the Daily Star in any public forum.” The reporter, however, continued posting controversial tweets – - leading to his suspension and eventual discharge for tweeting insensitively about homicides and in other manners which drew negative attention to the Daily Star.
Although the reporter claimed he was fired for engaging in activity protected by the National Labor Relations Act, the Division of Advice disagreed. Instead, it decided that the “inappropriate and offensive” Twitter postings were not protected activities, because they “did not relate to the terms and conditions of his employment or seek to involve other employees in issues related to employment.”
In what should be a warning to other employers dealing with social media issues, the Division of Advice did conclude that the paper’s initial directive to the reporter not to air his grievances in public could be interpreted as an illegal prohibition against activities protected by Section 7. However, since the statement was only made to a single employee and the Daily Star made its decision to discharge based on the comments unrelated to that statement, it saw no reason to issue a complaint on that issue.