Labor board backs worker fired after chiding boss online
WASHINGTON — A Connecticut woman who was fired after she posted disparaging remarks about her boss on Facebook has prompted a first-of-its-kind legal case by federal authorities who say her comments are protected speech under labor laws.
The National Labor Relations Board alleges that American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. illegally fired Dawnmarie Souza from her job as an emergency medical technician last year after she criticized her supervisor on her personal Facebook page and then traded Facebook messages about the negative comments with other employees.
The complaint, filed Oct. 27 by the board’s Hartford regional office, could set a precedent as more workers use social-networking sites to share details about their jobs.
“It’s the same as talking at the water cooler,’’ said Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel. “The point is that employees have protection under the law to talk to each other about conditions at work.’’
Federal law has long protected employees against reprisal for talking to co-workers on their own time about jobs and working conditions, including remarks critical of managers. The law applies whether or not workers belong to a union.
NLRB officials said the Connecticut company has an unlawful policy that prohibits employees from making disparaging remarks about supervisors and depicting the company “in any way’’ over the Internet without permission.
“This is the first complaint we’ve issued over comments on Facebook, but I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing more,’’ Solomon said. “We have to develop policies as we go in this fast-changing environment.’’
The trouble for Souza started when her supervisor asked her to prepare a report when a customer complained about her work, according to the NLRB complaint.
Souza said she was denied representation by her union, Teamsters Local 443.
Souza logged onto her Facebook page from home and wrote: “Looks like I’m getting some time off. Love how the company allows a 17 to be a supervisor.’’
“A 17’’ refers to the company’s code for a psychiatric patient. Souza also referred to her supervisor with two expletives.
John Barr, an attorney representing the company, said Souza was fired because of two complaints about her “rude and discourteous service.’’ He said Souza would have been fired whether the Facebook comments were made or not.
Barr said the company understands workers have a right to talk about wages and working conditions but stands by its policy against employees discussing the company on the Internet.
A hearing before an administrative law judge is set for Jan. 25.