I work at the corporate office of a popular fashion retailer. Lately, I’ve been increasingly unhappy with certain things at work. I feel that the quality of our products has gone down, that management is terrible, and that the company treats its employees poorly. I tried bringing these issues up with my manager, but she dismissed my complaints. A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my work complaints on my Facebook page, tagging several of my coworkers to get their thoughts. My manager found out about my post and fired me. Is this legal?
Federal labor laws protect employees who engage in what’s called “concerted activity”: when employees get together to try to improve their pay and working conditions. Contrary to what you might expect, this federal labor law doesn’t just protect union employees. It also protects non-union employees, like you and your coworkers.
In recent years, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the agency that enforces the federal labor law, has taken a special interest in applying these protections to online posts on social media. The NLRB has increasingly found that employers may not fire (or take other negative action) against employees for discussing their work complaints with each other, even if that discussion happens in the more public setting of social media.
For a social media post to qualify as concerted activity, it must involve more than one employee. For example, if two coworkers commented on each other’s Facebook pages about asking their employer for a raise, this would likely be protected. Or, if an employee posted a complaint about unsafe working conditions and asked other coworkers to chime in, this would also likely be protected.
On the other hand, a single employee acting alone is not engaging in concerted activity. Instead, that employee is merely airing a “personal gripe,” which is not protected under federal law. For example, if an employee was unhappy about a recent performance review and called his or her manager unkind names on Facebook, this would likely not be protected.
In your case, you probably have a good claim that your post was protected under federal labor laws. Your post discussed your work complaints and tagged several other coworkers to start a discussion. As long as your post wasn’t just a personal rant, and it was a legitimate effort to discuss your working conditions with your coworkers, it will likely be protected. You should consult with an experienced employment lawyer right away to protect your interests.
Other state and federal laws might also apply to social media activity. For more information, see our article on laws protecting employees’ social media activity.