The National Labor Relations Board Office recently rejected an unfair labor practice charge filed against Tuscon-based newspaper The Arizona Daily Star by a reporter fired for inappropriate Twitter postings. The employee, a crime reporter, was first counselled about the content of his tweets when he posted a snide remark about the paper’s Copy Editors. According to the NLRB, he was told then “that he was prohibited from airing his grievances or commenting about the Daily Star in any public forum.” That much he managed, but he nonetheless continued undaunted to post messages with other questionable content or commentary, such as: “You stay homicidal, Tucson. See Star Net for the bloody deets”; “What?!?!? No overnight homicide? WTF? You’re slacking Tucson”, and a clear front-runner for the Too Much Information prize: ”My discovery of the Red Zone channel is like an adolescent boy’s discovery of his . . . let’s just hope I don’t end up going blind.”
The last straw appeared to have been in response to a tweet on a local television station’s feed. The station had posted, “Drug smuggler tries to peddle his way into the U.S.” The reporter reposted it along with the comment, “Um, I believe that’s PEDAL. Stupid TV people.” After being fired because he “continue[d] to disregard professional courtesy and conduct expectations”, the reporter claimed his employer had interfered with his right to engage in concerted activities, a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
The NLRB noted that the Daily Star’s prohibition against “airing his grievances or commenting” against it was over-broad and implicitly concluded that, if it had been applied equally broadly, it would indeed have been an unfair labor practice. However, the NLRB dismissed this particular charge because while the policy was over-broad, in this case it was applied to tweets that were not related to the terms and conditions of his employment but were instead simply unprofessional and potentially offensive to readers.
While businesses may take heart from the fact that the employer prevailed in this case, they should take note also that the NLRB did find the Daily Star’s broad prohibition of the reporter making any public criticism of it to violate the law. Had his offending tweets had more to do with work, the result would likely have been very different. The NLRB continues to pay very close attention to all claims involving social media, and has ordered that all such charges be submitted to the Office of its General Counsel for formal advice before proceeding.