Employees Pink-Slipped for Griping About Work on Facebook Get Re-Hired

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Five workers who were fired for complaining to each other about their jobs on Facebook will go back to work and receive back pay, following a National Labor Relations Board ruling in their favor.

According to Inc., this was NLRB’s first social media ruling that didn’t target a specific company policy, and it was also the first social media case that didn’t involve a unionized workplace.

The brouhaha began when an employee at Hispanics United of Buffalo, a non-profit, took to Facebook to complain about a co-worker. “[A co-worker] feels that we don’t help our clients enough at HUB,” the employee wrote. “I about had it! My fellow co-workers: how do u feel?”

(MORE: Can You Be Fired for Bad-Mouthing Your Boss on Facebook?)

Several other employees chimed in, defending themselves but criticizing working conditions and staffing issues. When Hispanics United got wind of the conversation, the company then fired five employees, on the grounds that they were harassing one of their co-workers.

One of the employees complained to the NLRB’s regional office, alleging that Hispanics United was “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of rights” under the National Labor Relations Act. A judge agreed, ruling that the employees were within their rights to converse among themselves about working conditions.

That last part—conversing among themselves—is important. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees have the right to talk with each other about improving work conditions. The NLRB viewed the employees’ Facebook conversation as an example of that activity. It’s not clear whether the remarks could be seen by other Facebook users, but as a previous NLRB ruling has shown, it doesn’t matter as long as some employees are involved.

Hispanics United can still appeal to the NLRB in Washington, Inc. reports.

While the ruling is good news for people who want to vent their work frustrations on Facebook or other social networks, you’ll still want to be careful. This isn’t the first example of people getting fired for trash-talking their jobs on Facebook (other examples: waitress gets canned for complaining about a lousy tip, ambulance worker gets terminated for cussing out her boss), and while you may be able to take the issue to a higher authority, finding a more discreet way to vent with other co-workers may save a lot of headaches.

MORE: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do On Facebook