employees using profane language without experiencing discipline …” 11general take W r i t i n g
All original threads should be at least 250 words. This parameter helps to promote writing that is thorough, yet concise enough to permit other students to read all the postings. The thoughts and opinions expressed in your thread need to be substantiated by research and literature (from the textbook or outside sources). All references should be in correct APA style. While this is a formal discussion environment, you are allowed to use the first person perspective in all your posts since you will be expressing your personal opinions. All original threads should: Bring clarity to the issues being discussed. Raise new and novel (yet relevant) points. Relate issues to personal experience. Rationally defend your stated position.
What Can You Say About Your Employer on Social Media?
Your social media behavior has an impact. This activity is important because you must recognize the consequences of your online behavior and the effects your behavior will have on the reputation of the business you are representing.
The goal of this activity is to recognize all the steps involved in developing a social media policy that balances the interests of both employees and employers.
Employees’ social media behavior can both help and hurt businesses’ efforts to build reputations with customers, foster employee engagement, and earn profits. Because of this, nearly every day we hear of another employee fired for inappropriate social media posts. These conflicts take place at the intersection of employer interests, employee rights, and the law. Let’s begin by briefly outlining what the law says.
Determination of employee rights is primarily the responsibility of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which largely relies for guidance on section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935.1 Yes, the law that governs most matters of social media at work is more than 80 years old. Section 7 allows employees to unionize and/or act in concert to improve working conditions. One employment law expert described it this way: “Employee social media communications that relate to working conditions or unionization will often be protected even if they are offensive, obscene, or attack individual members of management personally.”2
Employees have issues. Some are completely their own and personal, such as bad attitudes and stressful life events, and some are largely the fault of their employers, like unfair manager behaviors, Draconian company policies, counterproductive coworker behaviors and attitudes, and annoying customers. Whatever the sources of their concerns, employees also complain, sometimes on the phone, other times face-to-face, and now more often on social media.
The First Amendment of the Constitution gives everybody the right to free speech, and the NLRA enables you and other employees collectively to improve working conditions or unionize.3 However, while you can rant about your employer, manager, coworkers, or customers all you want on the phone or at happy hour with your friends, there are some limits to your freedom to post the same comments on social media. These limits are in part determined by employers’ rights to protect their business interests.
The position of employers is pretty simple: They don’t want employee comments damaging the company’s reputation, costing it business, or causing legal liabilities. Cyber security issues aside, a business’s reputation and relationships are often hard-won and require considerable time, effort, and money to build.4 But all can be undermined when one negative post goes viral.5 If the intent is clearly to sabotage the business or steal proprietary information, most people and the law would agree that it is reasonable to create and enforce policies to protect against these possibilities.
Fewer people, however, agree when policies attempt to restrict social media comments that bad-mouth management, other employees, or customers or that discuss compensation and other policies with employees or others. Regardless of your own views, the law and a growing number of cases are showing that employers’ broad policies prohibiting such practices are unwise and indefensible. Consider the following examples.
Triple Play—You’re Out!
Triple Play Sports Bar & Grill in Connecticut was made aware of an accounting error that caused employees to pay more taxes and scheduled a meeting to discuss the issue. But before the meeting, a former employee posted a complaint on Facebook: “Someone should do the owners of Triple Play a favor and buy it from them. They can’t even do the tax paperwork correctly!!!”6 A current bartender responded with another derogatory comment about a manager, a comment that was subsequently “liked” by one of the cooks. The bartender and the cook were fired. Management cited Triple Play’s employee handbook:
“[W]hen Internet blogging, chat room discussions, e-mail, text messages, or other forms of communication extend to employees … engaging in inappropriate discussions about the company, management, and/or coworkers, the employee may be violating the law and is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.”7
What ultimately happened? The employees filed a complaint with the NLRB, which decided in their favor. First, the NLRB said the term inappropriate in the handbook was entirely too vague and open to interpretation by employees.8 It also said the employee’s “like” response to another’s post was a form of “concerted activity,” which means the employee was agreeing with the view of another employee and cannot be punished for doing so.
The board further explained that even though customers learned of the comments, the effect was the same as if they had overheard a discussion between two employees, which is not grounds for dismissal. Furthermore, the comments were not directed at customers, and thus no offense was committed. Finally, the intent of the communication was to talk about workplace conditions, something employees have the right to complain about.9
Pier Sixty—Under Water
Pier Sixty is a New York City catering company whose employees were in the midst of attempting to form a union because of what they perceived as a pattern of bad behavior by management. The company opposed this action, but unionizing is employees’ legal right. Before the union vote, a company director “harshly berated servers, in front of customers.” During a break, one of the servers “used his iPhone to post an expletive-laden message” blasting the director on Facebook that ended with, “Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!” (The post was quite profane and named the director, made comments about his mother and family, and called him a “loser,” among other things.) The post was visible to the employee’s Facebook friends, some of whom were also Pier Sixty employees. When word got back to management, the employee was fired. The reason? “His Facebook post violated company policy and was egregious, inappropriate, and possibly defamatory.”10
The NLRB decided in favor of the employee. “Because the record showed that the work environment at Pier Sixty was permeated with hostile and offensive language, which the company regularly tolerated, the NLRB concluded that none of the factors weighed in favor of a finding that [the employee’s] comments were so egregious as to lose the NLRA’s protections…. [The employee] posted his comment in the midst of a contentious union election—when heated rhetoric should have been expected from both pro- and anti-union advocates—and ended his post with an express statement of union support. In addition, the record was replete with examples of employees using profane language without experiencing discipline…”11
The above examples make clear that social media policy alone will not solve a company’s challenges. But to help, here are some conclusions about (im)permissible social media comments by employees that have considerable support:
If a post is related to a union or some form of employee organizing, employee protections are strong.
- If multiple employees are part of the exchange, it may be considered “concerted” and acceptable. But if a lone individual posts, that person may be in the wrong.12
- Profanity isn’t necessarily prohibited, even if directed at an individual, especially if the same language is used and tolerated in that particular employer’s workplace without consequences.
- If there is a reason for conflict, such as a proposed unionization vote or policy change, disagreement is to be expected, and voicing support or opposition is not an offense.
Assume you own a sports bar like Triple Play. Of course you want to protect its reputation with customers, foster employee engagement, and earn profits. What would you do?
Apply the 3-Step Problem-Solving Approach to OB
Step 1: Define the problem.
Step 2: Identify causes of the problem by using material from this chapter, which has been summarized in the Organizing Framework for Chapter 9 and is shown in Figure 9.6. Causes will tend to show up in either the Inputs box or the Processes box.
Step 3: Make your recommendations for solving the problem. Consider whether you want to resolve it, solve it, or dissolve it (see Section 1.5). Which recommendation is desirable and feasible?
1. A. Gardella, “Here’s Why Employees Can Trash Their Bosses on Social Media,” Forbes, May 21, 2015,http:// G. Patterson, “NLRB Holds Employee’s Obscene Facebook Post Criticizing Supervisor Is Protected,” Employmentmatters.com, April 14, 2015, https:// P. Gordon and K. Appenteng, “Second Court Upholds NLRB’s Triple Play Decision, Expanding Section 7 Protections for Employees’ Social Media Activity,” Littler.com, October 30, 2015,http:// S. Kumar, “Why Monitoring Employees’ Social Media Is a Bad Idea,” Time, May 22, 2015, http://time.com/3894276/social-media-monitoring-work/.
5. C. Matias, “The Top 10 Most Embarrassing Social Media Fails from 2015,” socialmediaweek.org, January 5, 2016, http://time.com/3894276/social-media-monitoring-work/.
6. A. Gardella, “Here’s Why Employees Can Trash Their Bosses on Social Media,” Forbes, May 21, 2015, http:// Ibid.
8. P. Gordon and K. Appenteng, “Second Court Upholds NLRB’s Triple Play Decision, Expanding Section 7 Protections for Employees’ Social Media Activity,” Littler.com, October 30, 2015, http:// A. Gardella, “Here’s Why Employees Can Trash Their Bosses on Social Media,” Forbes, May 21, 2015, http:// Ibid.
11. G. Patterson, “NLRB Holds Employee’s Obscene Facebook Post Criticizing Supervisor Is Protected,” Employmentmatters.com, April 14, 2015, https:// “Can You Fire Someone for Their Social Media Complaints about Work?” Hg.org, https://