Judge: fired for complaining on Facebook? You're rehired!

Five employees who used Facebook to voice their displeasure about their job, and were fired for doing so, have been told they can go back to work.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge Arthur Amchan has found that the Buffalo nonprofit organization Hispanics United unlawfully discharged five employees after they posted comments on Facebook concerning working conditions. The group is calling this "the first ruling of its kind."

It all started when an employee of Hispanics United, which provides social services to low-income clients, heard a coworker criticize other employees for not doing enough to help the organization's clients and posted the allegations on Facebook. The initial post generated responses from other employees who defended their job performance and criticized working conditions, including work load and staffing issues. Hispanics United later discharged the five employees who participated, claiming that their comments constituted harassment of the original employee mentioned in the post.

Amchan heard the case on the days of July 13, 14, and 15, based on a complaint that was issued on May 9 by Rhonda Ley, NLRB Regional Director in Buffalo, New York. The judge issued his decision on September 2, finding that the employees' Facebook discussion was protected concerted activity within the meaning of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, since it involved a conversation among coworkers about their terms and conditions of employment, including their job performance and staffing levels. The judge also found that the employees did not engage in any conduct that forfeited their protection under the Act.

Judge Amchan ordered that Hispanics United reinstate the five employees. Furthermore, he awarded the employees back pay because they were unlawfully discharged. Last but not least, the nonprofit organization must post a notice at its Buffalo facility concerning employee rights under the Act as well as the violations found.

It's unclear how Hispanics United will react. The group can either agree to Amchan's ruling or appeal the decision to the Board in Washington.

If you want to read more details about the court case, check out the judge's decision: Case No. 3-CA-27872 (41-page PDF). The NLRB says it has received an increasing number of charges related to social media in the past year, as that means of communication continues to grow in popularity.

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