Apple Fires Employee Over Facebook Rants
Apple can legally fire an employee who ranted about his job on Facebook, a U.K. tribunal ruled, the latest in a growing number of worker terminations prompted by social network postings.
Employee Samuel Crisp, a “Genius” at the Norwich Apple Store, posted various angry updates about his iPhone, apps and other aspects of Apple, expressing his displeasure on the social network.
Crisp’s profile was set to private, but the comments reached Apple management from a friend who passed them on. Apple terminated Crisp, saying his remarks breached the company’s social media policy against negative comments, and the tribunal upheld the company’s decision.
The case is the latest illustration of the conflicts between employees, employers, and the use of social media to discuss work-related issues.
The American Medical Response of Connecticut’s company fired employee Dawnmarie Souza after she posted complaints from her home computer on the social networking site over a work-related incident and called her boss a “scumbag.”
Souza filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations board, the agency’s first ever involving a firing related to social media, claiming her employer fired her after she made the negative Facebook postings in response to her boss’ alleged denial of union representation during an investigation of a customer complaint. Many of Souza’s co-workers responded and supported her posts.
The complaint was settled in February, with the company agreeing to rework its rules so workers’ rights are protected.
The NLRB ruled Souza’s firing in fall 2010 was illegal because they said posting comments on Facebook counted as “protected concerted activity” — speech protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The 1935 legislation, also called the Wagner Act, doesn’t deal with Internet behavior, but includes provisions giving private-sector employees the right to freely discuss wages, safety and other working conditions without fear of discipline or losing their jobs.
The Wagner Act, which kick-started the U.S. labor movement, is the main precedent applied to cases of employees venting on social media, which, since the Souza case at the beginning of the year, are quickly increasing.
More than 100 employers, including a saloon, a car dealership and Wal-Mart, have been accused by workers of improper social media practices or policies since the Souza decision, according to the Wall Street Journal. NLRB lawyers in Washington said about half the complaints reviewed to date do have merit for agency intervention.
Most of the cases involve nonunion employees, and are being reviewed to determine if work-related to postings made during an online discussion among employees about supervisory action, mirror the “protected concerted activity” under the law. The protection doesn’t apply to mere complaining, and kicks in when there is group activity instigating the discussion or resulting from it.
The law is clear that workers have the right to talk with each other about aspects of their employment, but the means they are doing it with — social media like Twitter and Facebook — are complicating its real-life application.