HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

Coping With a Social Media Policy in a Unionized Workplace

NLRB_Social-Media

By Eric B. Meyer

Do you have a unionized workforce?

If you have a social-media policy, it should not expressly restrict employees’ rights to discuss terms and conditions of employment. Otherwise, you may be violating the National Labor Relations Act.

And to those non-union employers who have social-media policies, don’t think for a second that you have carte blanche to control what employees say and do online. The National Labor Relations Act covers you as well.

So how can you draft a social-media policy that won’t run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act?

An overly broad policy

Back in April, I discussed a situation at Thomson Reuters in which the National Labor Relations Board had threatened to take action against Thomson Reuters, a unionized employer, because it allegedly reprimanded a reporter for tweeting this. I added that “if I were to read the tea leaves, I suspect that the NLRB will take the position that Thomson Reuters has an overly broad social media policy — I have never seen the policy — that chills the rights of employees to discuss working conditions.”

Well, damn, am I good!

The Sunday Times reports that the union and Thomson Reuters have agreed on a social-media policy that preserves employees’ rights to discuss wages, hours and working conditions on Facebook, Twitter and similar networks. The new social media policy underscores rights workers have under the National Labor Relations Act to publicly discuss working conditions.

In fact, the policy specifically states that “nothing in it should be interpreted as inhibiting the exchange of ideas about matters that deal with employees’ common welfare. Nor is there any prohibition on using social media for speech protected by the National Labor Relations Act, such as candidly discussing wages, hours and working conditions.” However, the policy does not give employees a license to make personal attacks against colleagues or managers, or against individual Thomson Reuters stories or products on social media.

Ultimately, it’s a balancing act

As I have noted before, businesses should tailor their social-media policies (as they should any other policy) to serve a legitimate business interest which, at the same time, is not intended to chill the right to organize should work. I imagine that a catchall provision may do the trick; something like, “Notwithstanding the foregoing, nothing in this policy shall be construed to limit, in any way, your rights under any applicable federal, state or local laws.” Or go one step further and reference rights under the National Labor Relations Act specifically.

Keep in mind that this is still a developing area. But before you do anything, consult an attorney. Each situation has its own unique facts and none of this is intended to be legal advice.

Attorney Eric Meyer will be leading a group of HR professionals in a panel discussion on Social Media in the Workplace – Where is it Today, Where is it Going Tomorrow? at the TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on this event. 

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .