When is it OK to diss your boss online?

1/24/2013

Posting complaints about your boss on Twitter or Facebook offers a fast, efficient way to gripe to all your online friends and to reach out to colleagues who work for the same 'lousy' person..

But can you get yourself fired for venting on social media? Does the law protect your right to speak ill of your boss? The answer is yes to both questions, say two employment lawyers and Tony Wagner, a spokesman for the National Labor Relations Board.

Technically, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects most of the negative things you might want to say about your boss online. The rule is that your intention should be to improve or change the terms or conditions of your employment and the speech should be "concerted." In other words, you should be trying to act in concert with colleagues who might feel the same way as you about your lousy boss.

Though the law may protect you, employers obviously do not look kindly on being the brunt of online criticism, especially on social media. An increasing number of companies, including General Motors, Target and Costco, are issuing social media policies that say workers can't disparage managers or co-workers on social media, and to do so can be grounds for firing.

But the NLRB is pushing companies to rewrite their restrictive policies, believing that the NLRA protects employees who want to discuss work conditions openly without fearing sanction.

The only statements that aren't protected are personal gripes or rants that affect no other employees but you. Example: You complain that your boss is being a jerk to you but not to anyone else in the office. Gossip that doesn't affect the terms and conditions of your employment, like a post about the boss's extramarital affair, is also not protected.

On the other hand, you can write a post noting your company's anti-nepotism policy and that your boss has just hired his wife. That does affect your working conditions and would be protected, explains Anne Golden, a plaintiff-side labor lawyer at Outten & Golden in New York.


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