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NLRB charges illegal firing for Facebook posts

The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint charging a New York nonprofit group with illegally terminating five employees who posted Facebook comments critical of the group, which provides social services to low-income clients.

The online comments criticized working conditions at Hispanics United of Buffalo, including work load and staffing issues, according to a press release from the NLRB. The complaint was issued May 9 by Rhonda Ley, NLRB Regional Director in Buffalo, N.Y.

An employee’s allegation that coworkers were not doing enough to help clients prompted responses from other employees who defended their job performance and criticized working conditions, including work load and staffing, according to the NLRB. The employer fired five employees for allegedly using Facebook to harass the employee mentioned in the original post.

The complaint alleges the Facebook discussion was protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, because it involved a conversation among coworkers about their terms and conditions of employment.  Unless the case is settled, the complaint will be heard by an administrative law judge on June 22, 2011, in the Buffalo office of the NLRB.

The complaint is the latest in a series of social media cases before the federal labor agency. In February, the board announced a settlement in a case involving the discharge of a Connecticut ambulance service employee for posting negative comments about a supervisor on her Facebook page. In April, a board regional director approved a settlement between build.com, a web-based home retailer operating in California, and a former employee fired by the employer after she posted comments about the company to her Facebook page.

Also in April, the New York Times reported the NLRB told Thomson Reuters the board planned to file a civil complaint against the company for illegally reprimanding a reporter over a public Twitter posting that criticized management. This would be the first government case against an employee involving Twitter, the NYT said.

By Deborah Elkins

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