Staffer trashed boss on Facebook – now firm pays for firing her

Many social networking policies include a clause to keep employees from badmouthing their employer online. Here’s why that practice could run afoul of the law.

Dawnmarie Souza worked for American Medical Response, an ambulance service in Connecticut. She was being investigated by her boss on charges of misconduct.

Souza disputed the allegations and got into a heated argument with the supervisor. After she got home, she posted a comment on Facebook insulting her boss. She was fired for violating a policy in the company’s handbook that prohibited employees from making disparaging remarks about the company, their co-workers or supervisors online.

After Souza filed a complaint about her termination, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a lawsuit on her behalf. The grounds: American Medical Response violated union protection laws by trying to keep employees from discussing their working conditions.

‘Overly broad rules’

Under the National Labor Relations Act, companies can’t fire employees for complaining amongst themselves about their jobs or their bosses. And according to the NLRB, the same rules apply to online conversations.

While employee law experts had previously warned that such claims could be made, this was the first actual lawsuit based on that argument.

And it looks like companies will have to wait more to see how courts will rule on the subject. American Medical Response recently agreed to settle the case.

As part of the settlement, the company agreed to change its “overly broad rules” regarding online discussions.

While the court didn’t get a chance to give an opinion on the issue, experts warn it won’t be the last time social networking policies are challenged in a lawsuit.

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