Social media can be a great asset for companies: A Facebook profile can help you advertise your business and a Twitter account can help you get information out to potential and current clients. Yet, what happens when your employees use Facebook to discuss work? What if they say something derogatory about your company?

A New York administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently held that a nonprofit organization acted unlawfully when it fired five individuals for posting negative comments about their work environments on Facebook.

In the case, employees had posted information on Facebook about workload and staffing at the company. The nonprofit organization discharged them because it believed harassment was involved in the posts. The administrative law judge found that the employees' comments on Facebook were protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Under Section 7, employees have a right to freedom of association, self-organization, unionization, collective bargaining and engaging in protected concerted activities with or without a union. The administrative law judge said that the employees were protected under the NLRA because their posts constituted a coworker conversation about employment. Thus, they did not forfeit their rights under the Act.

Social Media: Business Law and Policies

It appears that the NLRB sees Facebook as a personal forum much like the old coffee room where employees would air their grievances. In a world where constant information is flowing publicly, how can an employer protect itself from derogatory information on the web? What social media policies are appropriate? Is discharging an employee for Facebook or Twitter comments ever okay?

Most employment law attorneys recommend developing social media policies. However, even those policies have faced attack by the NLRB, especially those that restrict discussions involving wages, discharge actions and similar topics. Even policies that restrict negative comments about the company may go too far.

If your business is considering a social media policy or you have a social media policy you would like reviewed, contact a California business and employment lawyer.

Source: Insurance Journal, "New York Firm Unlawfully Fired Workers for Facebook Postings: NLRB," Sept. 15, 2011.