The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued yet another complaint against a hapless employer that fired an employee for making disparaging comments on his Facebook page. According to a May 24 press release, a car salesman at Knauz BMW in Illinois was terminated for content he posted on Facebook; specifically, he posted photos and commentary on his Facebook page that criticized his employer for only serving “hot dogs and bottled water” at a sales event, which led to a dip in sales and commissions. A trial date has been set for July 21.
This type of case is no longer unique. Since the first Facebook firing case, in fact there are dozens of Facebook related cases pending throughout the country. The grounds for these cases are based on a long-standing principle: employers may not punish employees who discuss working conditions with other employees (so-called “water cooler talk”). The NLRB’s logic is that posting comments critical of your employer’s choice of hors d’oeuvres online is akin to making those same comments in the workplace.
But comments posted on a Facebook page have a far greater potential reach than workplace chatting. On Facebook, 500 million plus users have the opportunity to learn the shocking fact that Knauz BMW serves only hot dogs. Now, whether the comments are truly disparaging is a separate matter, but trashing your employer in front of an outside audience to the degree that would-be customers may reconsider purchasing from that employer should be grounds for dismissal. If I have 10 Facebook friends, they might tell ten friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. Facebook’s own statistics show that an average user has 130 friends. It is akin to walking down the street wearing a sandwich board.
In other words, this is not a discussion amongst employees- it’s an announcement to the world, and the employer should have the right to control those announcements. We’ll have to see how this case develops, but I think the employee may have a point. I’m not a big fan of hot dogs, but if a car dealer gave me a free shrimp cocktail, I might just feel obligated to spend fifty grand on a BMW.