Friday, April 8, 2011

Business Twitter Policy Violates Federal Law

First, it was Facebook, today it’s Twitter that has the National Labor Relations Board in a tizzy. The Board has announced its intention to bring a complaint against media giant Thomson Reuters for reprimanding a reporter for the following tweet:

Before you think this is a union problem and stop reading, read this: The law Reuters is alleged to have violated applies to both union and nonunion employers. Your business is potentially subject to the same NLRB complaint if your social media policy has a blanket prohibition against employees damaging the reputation of the company in their use of social media, which is the apparent essence of the Reuters policy.

A Facebook incident at a different company last fall lead to my post Facebook Firing: the Chill Beyond the Water Cooler. As that title suggests, employees have a federally protected right to engage in discussions, formerly and stereotypically around the water cooler, with co-workers. The audience for such “concerted, protective activity” increases to the entire world when Facebook and Twitter become the water coolers of our age.

The Facebook drama ended in an out-of-court settlement that did nothing to help business determine what social media policies can and cannot provide. Perhaps this Twitter case will work its way through the courts so that better guidance becomes available. Until then, be sure you have a social media policy and be sure you’ve reviewed it with a knowledgeable attorney.


  1. I'm a social media manager and would like to keep a couple sample social media policies in my tool kit. Are there any publicly-available samples that you can recommend for this purpose?

  2. Howdy Debi,

    Until the law begins to close the gap with social media (it will never catch up), the NLRB issue being a prime example, it's tough to say what's a good policy and what isn't. Good policies need to make sense in the specific business, first. Then the business leaders and their legal counsel need to talk about risk tolerance in the business. How about a lunch to continue this conversation?