We’ve become aware of a social media post by one of our employees in which he complained about his working hours and pay. The post was “liked” by several of his coworkers, one of whom commented “Preach!” and another of whom posted an angry face emoji. Can we discipline these employees for complaining about the company on social media?
Answer from Kim, SPHR, SHRM-SCP:
I would recommend against disciplining the employees for these activities on social media as their speech is almost certainly protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Section 7 protects certain “concerted activity” by employees, which is activity done in concert, meaning more than one employee is involved. This kind of activity is protected if it’s related to their terms and conditions of employment (e.g., pay and scheduled hours).
In this case, because the employee complained about their pay and hours in a virtual space and other employees joined in – expressing their agreement through “likes,” emojis, and comments – the actions are clearly concerted activity and therefore protected.
I understand, however, that this sort of social media activity by employees can be frustrating. One way to reduce the likelihood that employees will air their grievances on social media is to establish a means for them to do so internally. Employee surveys, comment boxes (whether physical or online), stay interviews, and true “Open Door” policies are all ways to solicit this feedback. The key is to be willing to listen and act on the information you gather. If employees think taking their complaints directly to a manager will end in retaliation, or simply won’t lead to any change, they’re more likely to keep complaining on the internet.
Kim is a results-driven HR Professional with experience from diverse industries, including but not limited to, transportation, environmental services, staffing, pharmaceutical, market research, banking, retail, software development and education non-profit. In her spare time, Kim enjoys the beautiful view from her home and being with her husband and their German shepherd, Fin.
Vital Signs Insurance Services, Inc.
PO Box 6360
Folsom, CA 95630
Phone: (916) 496-8750
Fax: (916) 496-8754
Legal Disclaimer: The HR Support Center is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a licensed attorney. The HR Support Center cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to its receipt.