Legal

Buffalo Not-for-Profit Violated Workers Rights in Facebook-Related Firings

By Staff Report

Sep. 7, 2011

The National Labor Relations Board said Sept. 7 that an NLRB judge has ruled a Buffalo, N.Y., nonprofit unlawfully discharged five employees after they posted comments on Facebook about their working conditions.

According to the Sept. 2 ruling, on Oct. 9, 2010—a Saturday and nonworking day for employees of Hispanics United of Buffalo—Mariana Cole-Rivera posted a message on her Facebook page from her personal computer that said, “Lydia Cruz, a coworker feels that we don’t help our clients at HUB (sic) I about had it! My fellow coworkers how do u feel?”

Several co-workers responded with comments expressing frustration with their job.

Lydia Cruz-Moore, who was mentioned in the message, complained to HUB’s executive director, Lourdes Iglesias, about the posts. “Her text messages to Iglesias suggest that she was trying to get Iglesias to terminate or at least discipline the employees who posted the comments on Facebook,” said the ruling..

On Oct. 12, 2010, Iglesias met individually with five employees who had made the Facebook posts and fired each of them. “She told them that the posts constituted bullying and harassment and violated HUB’s policy on harassment,” according to the ruling by Administrative Law Judge Arthur J. Amchan.

Iglesias also told the workers that Cruz-Moore “had suffered a heart attack as a result of their harassment,” although “it is not established in this record” either that she had a heart attack or that there was any connection between her health and the Facebook posts.

Amchan ruled the employees’ Facebook discussion was protected concerted activity within the meaning of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act

“Employees have a protected right to discuss matters affecting their employment amongst themselves. Explicit or implicit criticism by a co-worker of the manner in which they are performing their jobs” is a protected activity, said the ruling.

“There is nothing in this record that establishes that any” of the fired workers harassed Cruz-Moore, according to the ruling.

The ruling orders the five terminated employees—Cole-Rivera, Carlos Oritz, Ludimar Rodriguez, Damicela Rodriguez and Yaritza Campos—to be reinstated, that they be “made whole” for any loss of earnings and that any reference to their discharges be removed from their files, removing any reference to their discharges from their files, among other steps.

In May, the NLRB ruled an Arizona newspaper was justified in firing a reporter over the content of messages he was posting on Twitter.    

Filed by Judy Greenwald of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

 

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