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Social Media, Free Speech, and Fireable Offenses: A Fine Line to be Walked

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I’ve known proves that it’s right
Because you’re mine, I walk the line
— Johnny Cash, I Walk the Line, 1956
Whereas the Man in Black famously wrote of love, today we speak of the line separating the free speech of social media and the fireable offenses of unprofessionalism and insubordination.
Case in point: a Connecticut ambulance worker last year posted vulgar characterizations about her boss on Facebook amidst meaningful discussions of workplace conditions. While the former undisputedly is grounds for termination, the latter is protected by labor law, and in the end, this particular matter was settled after the National Labor Relations Board sued the company.
This past Friday, that same agency released its Survey of Social Media Issues Before the NLRB and threw the matter into sharp relief. Among its findings was the following:
With respect to employer policies restricting employee use of social media, our review of cases found many specific policies alleged to be overbroad, including those that restrict discussion of wages, corrective actions and discharge of co-workers, employment investigations, and disparagement of the company or its management. The context in which the policy was adopted and even the issue of whether a rule or policy has been actually adopted are also important in these cases.
This is a potent paragraph because it says two things:
  1. Organizations must be careful how they write their policies governing what is acceptable and what isn’t for their employees to post online, and
  2. Organizations must have a policy in the first place!
 Neither of these points are new – see my April opinionation regarding an extra on Glee who Tweeted  an important plot point – but both have now captured the attention of a Federal body, and  the administrative, judicial, and legislative scrutiny can only intensify from here on in.
So take notice, gentle reader, and put on your best Johnny Cash: the time is now to begin walking this fine line.

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