Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Can You Facebook If You Want To?

The old story about the person who made the mistake of friending her boss on Facebook and then complaining about him on it is widely known at this point, but a couple of recent events point to a trend where social media messaging may be given more leeway rather than less.

Firstly, a recent decision by the National Labor Rights Board in the USA:
The labor relations board announced last week that it had filed a complaint against an ambulance service, American Medical Response of Connecticut, that fired an emergency medical technician, accusing her, among other things, of violating a policy that bars employees from depicting the company “in any way” on Facebook or other social media sites in which they post pictures of themselves.

Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, said, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act — whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”
And secondly, recent guidelines issued by the provincial government of British Columbia:
"Instead of saying you can't use [social networking tools], we are now saying you can use them where appropriate. But you have to keep in mind you can't breach confidentiality and you can't breach privacy law in doing so," Seckel said.

David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said it's encouraging that the government is increasing its transparency and creating opportunities for social engagement. However, he is concerned that the government doesn't control the platforms it might use.
Obviously these are far from ironclad decisions - and neither one of them would have necessarily protected that hapless Facebooker who made the truly terrible decision to add her boss as a contact - but together they do point to a trend that governments are willing to tolerate personal use of social media sites to a greater extent than previously and allow employees more freedom in using them. That's a welcome development, because if people can't use Facebook without constantly fearing for their jobs, there isn't much point to the site for anybody over the age of twenty-five.

Of course, it doesn't automatically follow that this tolerance will extend to potentially libelous or defamatory complaints about your employer made to the general public. The BC regulations are about using social media in the context of your job; the NLRB ruling reinforcing the rights of workers to "discuss" the circumstances of their employment with other workers. And of course, although American labour standards might give Canadian governments pause for consideration, they're hardly binding upon our own labour environment.

(That having been said, the NLRB ruling concerned a woman who mocked her boss and referred to him as a psychiatric patient in a derogatory manner, so who knows? Maybe Facebook bashing will be the new-age coffee-and-complaints break.)
- Christopher Bird, Toronto
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