The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the federal agency tasked with enforcing collective bargaining laws for private-sector employees.  For months, anti-labor legislators in Congress blocked appointment of labor-friendly Board members, but eventually new appointments have sparked a change in direction after years of the agency rolling back worker rights.

    Last month the Board’s regional office in Connecticut filed suit against American Medical Response of Connecticut, Inc. (AMR) alleging the company illegally terminated an employee who posted negative comments about her supervisor on the employee’s personal Facebook page.  The complaint also alleges that AMR committed an unfair labor practice when it denied the employee’s request to have a union representative present during an investigatory interview, and the employee reasonably believed the interview would result in AMR taking disciplinary action against her.

    The backstory is AMR supervisors interviewed an AMR employee after a customer complained about her work.  After the interview was completed, the employee posted a negative remark about her supervisor on her Facebook page from her home computer.  Coworkers posted messages in response supporting the employee, and she in turn posted more negative comments about the supervisor.  (Facebook users know this as posting messages back and forth on a user’s “wall.”)  AMR suspended and then terminated the employee, saying the postings violated its internet policies that prohibit employees “from making disparaging, discriminatory or defamatory comments when discussing the Company or the employee’s superiors, co-workers and/or competitors.”  The Board’s General Counsel says that this policy is “overly broad” in that it can impinge on collective bargaining rights, including the right to discuss working conductions among co-workers.

    The employee’s union filed an unfair labor practice charge over the discipline.  The NLRB investigated and found that the employee’s Facebook posts constituted “protected activity” under the National Labor Relations Act (Act), and that AMR’s internet policy contained illegal provisions that interfered with AMR’s employees exercising their right to engage in protected, concerted activity under the Act.

    A hearing is scheduled for January 25, 2011 before an NLRB administrative law judge.  We’ll see how this case unfolds.