Since the beginning of social media, employers have been concerned about negative postings and comments, issuing social media policies that control, discourage and outright forbid making negative statements online. Thanks to a new ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Georgia-Pacific employees’ social media policy has been overturned and employees are now able to discuss work on social media sites without fear of punishment.
In 2012, the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW) filed charges with the NLRB, stating the social media policy was too broad and imposed on their employees’ speech about the company, whether they were at work or at home. The policy prohibited the use of social media even outside of the workplace and carried the risk that failure to follow the policy might subject them to discipline, including termination.
While labor law does allow employers some ability to restrict employee speech (such as prohibiting employees from disparaging their employer and its products, or defaming individual supervisors or managers), the National Labor Relations Act does not allow employer to issue broad policies prohibiting employees from sharing information relating to ‘wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment’ with each other, because such prohibitions would make collective action by employees impossible.
As part of the settlement, Georgia-Pacific, a Koch Brothers-owned company, was required to post notices stating that the will repeal their social media policy and would not “issue policies that interfere with [employees’] rights to share information relating to wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment with others, including on social media.” The settlement also guarantees employees the right to use the company email to share information about working conditions.