NEW YORK NURSE: June/July 2012
Q.: Most of my colleagues at the hospital now have accounts on websites like Facebook and Twitter – and I think some of them are sharing too much about work. Are there laws that protect a union employee’s right to engage in social networking?
A.: The law is still being worked out – and we all know management doesn’t always follow the law. The best rule is always to think before you post.
The National Labor Relations Act passed in 1935 – long before the Facebook IPO.
In a recent string of cases, the National Labor Relations Board – the government agency that oversees the law and protects the rights of private sector employees – has been taking action to protect employees who were fired for sharing or tweeting about bad working conditions.
Section 7 of the NLRA protects workers who engage in “concerted activity.” That includes talking to your co-workers about problems with wages, hours, and working conditions. And in these cases, NLRB judges say those rights apply just as much online as they do in the break room.
Does that mean you should start tweeting whatever you want?
In one decision, the NLRB said employers can discipline employees for posts that are “vulgar, obscene, threatening, intimidating, harassing, or a violation of the Employer’s workplace policies against discrimination, harassment, or hostility on account of age, race, religion, sex, ethnicity, nationality, disability, or other protected class, status, or characteristic.”
What if you complain about your supervisor on Facebook?
You may not be protected – especially if you’re complaining about a personal issue, not an issue that affects other nurses.
Your best protection here is to not make it personal. Complain about management’s policies – not the supervisor who carries them out.
Both Facebook and Twitter let you adjust your privacy settings to limit who can see your posts.
But you should never assume that what you post on Facebook and Twitter will stay private. One of your friends can always report you. And Facebook is notorious for changing its privacy settings without notifying users.
Public sector employees have some protection under the law, too: New York State Labor Law 201-d(2)(d) says employers cannot take any adverse action against an employee on account of that employee’s engagement in legal, recreational activities if the employee engages in the activities outside of working hours, off the employer’s premises, and without using the employer’s property.
The NYSNA EGW Program receives many inquiries each month from members who have problems in their workplaces. If you have a question about labor relations at your facility, contact your NYSNA representative. If you have a question you think should be featured in this column, send it to: RNs at Work, NYSNA, 120 Wall Street, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10005.