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January 22, 2022

Employers may no longer be able to monitor workers' Facebook feed

Facebook began almost nine years ago, and what also began almost nine years ago were warnings of what the social network could do to your career.

Indeed, merely months after Facebook launched in 2004, we heard immediately to watch what we posted, and for whom to let see. The wrong thing put online, it was argued, would cost you your job.

In some ways, this happened (a police dispatcher was canned for posting a bad joke in 2010, for example) and in other ways it was all a bunch of smoke.

But as American lawmakers order employers to retract policies that limit what their workers can say online, it's fit to run back the argument that got us here: should your boss make decisions about your employment status based on what you post to Facebook or Twitter?

In a series of recent rulings and advisories, the National Labor Relations Board in the U.S. now says workers have a right to talk about work conditions openly and without fear of punishment. That is, free to talk about it in person or online, whichever they choose.

*Bing: What to never post online

"Many view social media as the new water cooler," Mark G. Pearce, the board's chairman, told the New York Times. "All we're doing is applying traditional rules to a new technology."

Such a ruling does not cover everything, of course.

Recently, a reporter at the Arizona Daily Star, miffed by a lack of news that day, was fired for taking to Twitter and lamenting, "What?!?!?! No overnight homicide? WTF? You're slacking, Tucson."

Just months after the Tucson shooting that killed six and was survived famously by U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the National Labor Relations Board ruling would not have spared the reporter because the Tweets were offensive and not about working conditions.

But many others that have been fired or punished after disparaging Facebook or Twitter comments regarding their boss or office environment may now have a free license.

From the Times: "The labor board's rulings, which apply to virtually all private sector employers, generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies -- like bans on 'disrespectful' comments or posts that criticize the employer -- if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions."

Do you think employers should be able to both monitor their workers' social networking and make decisions based off its activity? After all, this is the reputation of a company people may be ripping online, perhaps without merit at times.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

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