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Do employees have a right to use social media?

When individuals accept certain employment positions, they are told that discretion is an important part of their job descriptions. Certainly, safeguarding company secrets and keeping sensitive data private is important, provided that these secrets and this data are not illegal in nature. However, employers are increasingly insisting that their employees remain discreet even when the issues they would like to discuss online or in other forums are not protected.

The issue of social media is evolving within American employment law. Many employers have moved to block employee access to Facebook and other sites within the workplace. Still others have insisted that employees may not discuss work on social media sites. Certain civil rights organizations have questioned whether these policies unduly limit employees’ freedom of speech. Most recently, a government agency has essentially questioned the same thing.

The National Labor Relations Board recently insisted that the owners of a sports bar must restore employment to two workers who were unfairly shorted state withholding taxes. When the workers went online to discuss and protest their situation, their employer fired them. The NLRB ruled in the case that the workers’ social media postings are protected activity.

This ruling and others like it seem to be setting a precedent that employers cannot broadly and unjustly prohibit employees from discussing their work on social media. While exceptions may certainly apply for protected information, broad discussions about work and the workplace may soon be broadly protected from restrictions. However, if workers are concerned about posting certain information online, they may wish to speak with an employment law attorney in order to place themselves in a better position to make an informed decision.

Source: People’s World, “NLRB protects Facebook time for workers,” Mark Gurenberg, Oct. 24, 2014

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