The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects private employees, in particular their rights to “to join together to improve their wages and working conditions, with or without a union,” and it’s enforced by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Employees are allowed to engage in “protected concerted activities,” which includes discussions about wages and work conditions on publicly accessible social media sites.
According to a 2010 survey, nearly 50% of small to medium size businesses don’t have a social media policy, and based on the recent report from the NLRB, I suspect many companies that have social media policies, are in violation of the NLRA. If you’re an employer, you need a social media policy, but it’s critical that it complies with the NLRA.
So, if you fire or discipline an employee based on a social media policy that violates the NLRA, you could be in a world of hurt. Here’s what happens. The employee will file a charge against you with the NLRB. The NLRB will conduct an investigation and have a decision about the merits of the case in 7 to 12 weeks. The NLRB receives 20,000 to 30,000 charges each year.
Here’s the good news – more than 50% of these charges are withdrawn or dismissed.
Here’s the bad news – if the case has merit, you’re probably going to be paying a lot.
If the NLRB decides the case has merit, there’s usually a settlement between the employer and employee – meaning you have to pay the employee for violating their rights. If you can’t come to settlement, the case is decided by an NLRB Administrative Law Judge. The judge may make you provide a remedy to your employee such as giving them backpay and reinstating them in their job.
In 2010, 8,257 cases were decided by NLRB judges. Employers were required to pay over $86 million in backpay and fines. That’s an average of over $10,000 per case! The NLRB judges also required 1,633 employers to offer an unlawfully discharged employee reinstatement of their job – and most of them accepted!
So what’s the worse-case scenario if your social media policy violates the NLRA?
- You have to pay your unlawfully discharged employee over $10,000 in backpay,
- Offer them their job back (even though you’d rather they be gone),
- Fire the person you hired to take the unlawfully discharged person’s place if they accept,
- Deal with the expense and hassle of an NLRB investigation, and
- Revise your social media policy so it complies with the NLRA.
If you want to avoid all this financial and professional heartache, make sure your company has a social media policy that’s drafted by an attorney who understands social media and who keeps up with developments from the NLRB. The cost of not doing so is too high.