A private ambulance company fired an employee for talking trash about the boss on Facebook. In a society driven by social media communication, the Facebook post firing has people questioning labor laws and their rights.
The National Labor Relations Board is not in accordance with the decision of American Medical Response to fire 42-year-old Dawnmarie Souza. NLRB stated the company enforced an “overly broad blogging and Internet posting policy.” NLRB indicates Souza “posted a negative remark about a supervisor.”
The Daily News reports American Medical Response, based in Colorado, said they fired Souza from her position as an emergency medical technician “based on multiple, serious complaints about her behavior.” Was it more than a Facebook post firing?
Dawnmarie Souza is a breast cancer survivor living in Connecticut. Souza said she has a clean records and, “I am a very good medic and I did nothing wrong.”
Federal authorities believe Souza did nothing wrong as her comments are protected speech under labor laws. This is the first legal case of its kind so many will be watching to see how the Facebook post firing situation progresses.
The NLRB filed a complaint on October 27, 2010 alleging American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. illegally fired Dawnmarie Souza. The firing occurred after Souza criticized her supervisor on her personal Facebook page. Souza also traded Facebook message with other employees about the negative comments on her page.
Acting general counsel for NLRB, Lafe Solomon, said, “It’s the same as talking at the water cooler. The point is that employees have protection under the law to talk to each other about conditions at work.”
Whether employees are covered by a union or not, federal labor law protects workers against reprisal for talking to co-workers on their own time about employment conditions and managers.
According to CS Monitor, Solomon continued, “This is the first complaint we’ve issued over comments on Facebook, but I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing more. We have to develop policies as we go in this fast-changing environment.”
Souza’s problems began when she was asked by her supervisor to prepare an investigative report after a customer complained about her work. Souza claimed she was denied union representation from Teamsters Local 443.
Souza went to her Facebook page to vent, writing, “Looks like I’m getting some time off. Love how the company allows a 17 to be a supervisor.” The company code 17 is used for a psychiatric patient. Souza also used two expletives about her supervisor. Other colleagues offered her support on her Facebook page, much like gathering around a water cooler.
Attorney for American Medical Response, John Barr, said Souza was fired for two separate complaints regarding her “rude and discourteous service.” He said she would have been fired regardless of her Facebook comments. Barr also said, “If you’re going to make disgusting, slanderous statements about co-workers, that is something that our policy does not allow.”
On January 25, 2011 an administrative law judge is set to hear this ground-breaking case. While it seems clear employees can still gather around the water cooler to gripe, is it a different story when communicating on Facebook?
Regardless of company policy, employees need to be aware of how employers use social media to find out about them as they try to protect their privacy and freedom of speech.