The policy, which prohibits employees from revealing non-public company information on any public site, is overly broad and, thus, violates employees’ rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, the board ruled. Section 7 permits employees the right to organize, bargain collectively and go on strikes.
The NLRB is paying increased attention to social media policies and their effects on workers’ rights. As employees increasingly discuss their jobs on sites like Facebook, employers are developing and implementing policies to protect the company’s interests.
Recently, the board’s Office of General Counsel published a report outlining guidelines for companies with respect to those policies.
The report presents several real-world policies, some of which run afoul of workers’ rights and some of which the board deems appropriate.
The common denominator among many of the violating policies is that they broadly discourage employees from communicating their opinions and impressions about the company.
For example, one of representative policies states that employees may not “release confidential guest, team member or company information . . .” The report concluded that this provision could be interpreted as preventing employees from discussing the terms and conditions of their employment, which is protected activity under Section 7.
Another requirement that the report deemed inappropriate stated: “Offensive, demeaning, abusive or inappropriate remarks are as out of place online as they are offline, even if they are unintentional.” This provision might proscribe criticism of the employer in violation of Section 7, the report concluded.
In terms of lawful guidelines, the report approved provisions generally admonishing employees to be respectful, fair and courteous to fellow employees. It also sanctioned rules requiring employees to maintain the confidentiality of the employer’s trade secrets.
What constitutes a permissible social media policy is not always self evident.