Labor Settlement to have Far-Ranging Consequences
American Medical Response (AMR), an ambulance company based in Connecticut, reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last week just one day before a hearing was to begin on AMR’s firing of an employee who posted negative comments about AMR on her Facebook page.
The NLRB alleged under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that AMR employee, Dawnmarie Souza, posting of comments on her Facebook page was protected concerted activity. Two or more private sector non-supervisory employees are permitted pursuant to the NLRA to engage in protected concerted activity, meaning employees have the right to protest or complain about their terms and conditions of employment. AMR’s handbook contained provisions prohibiting employees from making “disparaging, discriminatory, or defamatory comments when discussing the company or the employee’s superiors, co-workers, and/or competitors.”
The NLRB contended that such a policy was overly broad and violated the NLRA’s prohibition against disciplining employees for discussing working conditions or unionization amongst themselves. The Board took the position that because Ms. Souza’s Facebook comments were considered protected concerted activity, they could not justify the disciplinary action taken against her.
Jonathon Kriesberg, director of the Board’s regional office in Hartford, Connecticut, while stating the employer’s policy is overly broad also acknowledged that the law protecting worker speech has some limitations, such as not allowing employees to disrupt the workplace or engaqe in threatening conduct. But Kreisberg argued that Souza’s Facebook comments did not cross this legal line.
“Here she was on her own time, on her own computer and on her own Facebook page making these comments,” Kreisberg said. “If employees are upset about their supervisor and get together on their own time talk about him, criticize and call him names, they can do that.”
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, AMR will revise its handbook provisions on blogging, standards of conduct, and solicitation.