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Social Media and Free Speech. Does interpretation outweigh intention?

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board was faced with an interesting case. An employee at a Chicago BMW dealership posted statuses and photos to his Facebook page that were critical of Knauz BMW, his employer. After being fired for his transgressions, the salesmen in question attempted to sue Knauz for wrongful termination. At HRBoost, we have seen how some termination decisions can go wrong first hand. This one caught our eye! While the NLRB did not exactly make a groundbreaking decision, they did reaffirm the notion that posts made on social media accounts do not count as protected speech.

This decision is important for both employers and employees going forward in the future. For employers, this represents a victory in the increasingly murky field of what is and is not free speech. Businesses have a right to feel threatened by disparaging posts on social media networks by their employees but legal review of your Social Media policies is advised. Clearly, a negative image being projected by a supposed team member at the company is potentially very threatening to future business. When the NLRB ruled in favor of Knauz BMW in their decision to terminate the thoughtless employee, employers across the nation let out a collective sigh of relief. Had Knauz not emerged victorious from this lawsuit, an incredibly dangerous precedent would have been set. Any employee displeased with his manager or company in general would have free reign to launch into angry tirades on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platforms. Such behavior could have seriously detrimental effects on a company’s culture and overall morale. Even if 95% of employees are perfectly happy, a loud and unhappy 5% could potentially derail an entire business. Just look at glassdoor.com and everyone can begin to see the value of being transparent and authentic with employees.

For employees, let this serve as a nice reminder that not all speech is free and protected by the US Constitution. You may be able to say it, write it, etc. but what will it cost you?  In the 21st century, the lines of acceptable speech and behavior have blurred. The internet has provided a platform for people to create their own “brands,” via social media sites like Facebook. What people need to understand is that there is no disconnect between who you are at the office and who you are from behind your laptop. What does that mean? It means that things that you wouldn’t feel comfortable marching into your boss’s office and saying, you probably should leave off the internet. Just a word to the wise check your privacy settings and use caution as all that is interpreted is not as intended.

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