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Employee fired for Facebook comments settles with employer

Facebook is well known for its addictive effect, as well as for its ability to get people in trouble. But it isn't only employees who can get in trouble for utilizing Facebook. Employers need to be careful about taking adverse action against employees when the latter engage in discussion of work-related matters.

Recently, an ambulance service based out of Connecticut settled a case with a former employee who was terminated after she posted negative comments about her boss on Facebook. The actions of the company-American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc.-raise the interesting question of how much freedom employees have to post comments about work matters on social media sites like Facebook.

The employee, as a member of Teamsters union, was initially represented by the Teamsters, but the case was later taken up by the National Labor Relations Board.

In response to the employee's firing, the National Labor Relations Board issued complaint last fall, arguing the termination was illegal since the posting was protected activity according to the National Labor Relations Act, a law which allows employees to discuss employment terms and conditions with fellow workers and others. In this case, the employee posted comments regarding her supervisor and discussed further comments from coworkers.

The National Labor Relations Board also claimed the company had laid down overly broad employee rules in its employee handbook regarding blogging, internet use, and communication between employees.

American Medical Response of Connecticut initially denied the allegations, saying the employee was terminated because of "multiple, serious complaints about her behavior." The company also said its actions were a response to personal attacks toward another co-worker which were posted on Facebook.

In the recent settlement of the case, the company agreed to revise its employee rules to ensure that workers' rights aren't restricted, and agreed not to discipline or terminate employees for having discussions about work issues when not on the job.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Facebook Firing Case Is Settled," Melanie Trottman, 8 Feb 2011.

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