Is it legal to be fired for online posts?

Labor board fights for employee right to discuss work conditions

Audelia Santiago’s photos of co-workers on her Facebook page prompted some snarky comments.

No big deal, right?

Tinley Park Hotel and Convention Center, where she worked as a banquet server, thought otherwise. Last year the convention center sacked her for violating employee handbook rules, including one against “disloyalty.”

Now Santiago could get her job back. In June, an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the convention center violated federal labor law by imposing “overly broad” employee handbook rules on Santiago and her coworkers. Those rules, the judge said, could “chill” workers from talking about their working conditions, which are protected under federal labor law.

The convention center, which can appeal the ruling, declined to comment through its attorney.

The case illustrates a growing trend of the NLRB forcing employers to revise employee handbooks for the digital age as people talk about their workplaces on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Workers’ rights are the same at the water cooler as they are on the Web,” said Jessica Kahanek, an NLRB spokeswoman.

Bryan O’Keefe, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who represents employers in labor disputes, said about a quarter of his caseload involves social media, work rules or disputes over activity protected under labor law. “This is a hot area,” he said.

The volume of cases, O’Keefe added, is frustrating for employers, which are having trouble keeping pace with employee handbook changes mandated by the NLRB.

Even employers that change their rules worry about getting dragged into costly legal battles, said Nancy Hammer, senior government affairs policy counsel at the Society for Human Resource Management. What’s more, she said, the law will evolve along with new types of social media. “This isn’t going away,” Hammer said.   read more….