Chalk One Up For Labor - Employers Better Not Fire You for What You Say Online About Them

Score one for the people. The National Labor board won a case for a worker fired because she slammed her boss on Facebook.

Employers should think twice before trying to restrict workers from talking about their jobs on Facebook or other social media.

That's the message the government sent on Monday as it settled a closely watched lawsuit against a Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee after she went on Facebook to criticize her boss.

The National Labor Relations Board sued the company last year, arguing the worker's negative comments were protected speech under federal labor laws. The company claimed it fired the emergency medical technician because of complaints about her work.

Under the settlement with the labor board, American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. agreed to change its blogging and Internet policy that barred workers from disparaging the company or its supervisors. The company also will revise another policy that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the Internet without permission.

Both policies interfered with longstanding legal protections that allow workers to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers, the board said.

How about doing something about all of the contract workers getting stiffed, who are officially counted as small businesses, thus do not have any labor protections.

About 40% of freelancers had trouble getting paid in 2009, according to a survey released in mid-April by the New York-based Freelancers Union, a 135,000-member organization for independent contractors across the country in fields such as media, technology, and advertising. It was the first year the group asked the question on its member survey. And more than three out of four freelancers said they've had trouble getting paid over the course of their careers, according to organization.

The problem could become more acute as independent contractors emerge as a more central piece of the work force. The financial crisis and the resulting high unemployment thrust many professionals into the ranks of freelance workers, which may continue to grow despite signs of an economic recovery.

Littler Mendelson, a San Francisco-based employment law firm with 49 offices nationwide, predicts that in 2010 half of previously eliminated positions filled will be filled by contingent workers—such as independent contractors, freelancers, and temp workers—accounting for as much as 25% of the work force nationwide— based on client interviews and a survey conducted by a staffing analysis firm.

Since independent contractors aren't covered by most federal employment laws, they don't enjoy the same legal protections on wages as permanent employees, says a spokesman for the Department of Labor. If a permanent employee doesn't get paid, federal or state labor departments can fine companies and even prosecute company executives. But independent contractors often have to turn to the court system, in most cases small claims, if they go unpaid.

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Good for the NLRB. But:

This is why corporations are moving to firing people under the guise of layoffs -- it's a lot harder to get sued when you "let somebody go" because "the business is contracting" than when you fire somebody for an actual stated cause. But when the layoffs happen on a Friday, and the new hire classes start coming through on the following Monday, it's hard to miss what is going on.

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