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For Employees, Facebook Counts as Free Speech

A federal agency has declared Facebook posts are legally protected speech, even for employees who write negative things about their employers.

In a lawsuit that probably won’t sit well with most employers trying to enforce social media policies, the National Labor Relations Board said that a recent Facebook (Facebook)-related termination was unlawful.

The employee in question, Dawnmarie Souza, used some vulgar language to deride her boss on Facebook when he denied one of her requests. Several of Souza’s co-workers joined in on the thread, also making negative comments about the supervisor. Souza made these comments on her own time and on her own computer.

An NLRB representative told The New York Times that company social media policies that prohibit making negative remarks about one’s boss or company online are actually in violation of labor laws that protect employees’ right to talk about things like wages and working conditions.

Hence, Souza’s supervisors may not have had the right to fire her for what she did.

Of course, not all Facebook activity is likely to be protected speech. Given the nuances of employment law, you may want to call an attorney before you post something derogatory about your boss or workplace — or perhaps just skip the public, online venting altogether.

According to the NLRB’s Facebook page, Facebook comments can lose protected status depending on where the discussion takes place, the subject matter, the nature of the outburst and whether the comments were provoked by an employer’s unfair labor practice.

What do you think: Should companies have the right to make and enforce social media policies about what you can and can’t say about them online? Or should your personal social networks be protected from any work-related consequences?

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