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Trashing your boss online – protected speech or grounds for termination?

Nov 15, 2010

The National Labor Relations Board last week intervened to prevent the firing of an employee for insulting her boss online. Dawnmarie Souza was dismissed by American Medical Response of Connecticut after posting on Facebook “several vulgarities” about her supervisor including calling him a “17,” ambulance-service lingo for psychiatric patient. Because Souza’s coworkers chimed in, the complaint counted as a “concerted activity,” which guarantees employees the right to talk about workplace conditions. Does that mean you can say anything about your boss online? Not quite. Personal attacks are not protected, nor can employees spill trade secrets. American Medical Response claims that Souza was fired “based on multiple, serious complaints about her behavior,” not just the Facebook posting. An administrative law judge will hear the case January 25. What impact will this case have on employers’ social media policies? Could it be a free speech boon for employees? What should employees and employers do to protect themselves from water cooler banter 2.0?

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