Employers are scrambling to understand the ways in which social media can be used to promote their businesses, and at the same time the ways in which these social media tools can be used by their employees to disparage their bosses, the companies they work for and even their past or current clients.
The National labor Relations Board has made a number of rulings on the matter, sometimes embracing the use of social media by employees, declaring that when an employee makes a negative comment about their company or their boss on social media it is a protected form of speech. In other cases the NLRB has supported the employers right to discharge employees who make similar remarks, because of the context in which the remark was made.
It seems in most cases the NLRB supports the workers right to participated in concerted activities with other employees in the work place and then continue that conversation online, either through the use of social media or some other web-based application.
The lesson to be learned by employers and employees is that the rules are no different online than they are in the brick and mortar workplace. Violations of strictly worded company policies can get you fired; efforts to engage in employee conversations online cannot. But in neither of these instances is it advisable to engage in questionable behavior by either party.
What I mean by this is simple: For employers who try to regulate the ways their employees express themselves, you run the risk of looking like you have something to hide. If a case goes before the NLRB or attracts similar media attention your company, even if it wins, will come away looking bad. This is not a winning scenario.
For employees, just because you have an outlet in which to speak your mind does not mean you should, especially if it puts your reputation (much less your job) at risk. If your case goes before the NLRB and you win, you'll still come away looking like a risk for any future employers. Your boss, the company you work for, needs to know they can trust you. Speaking your mind is perfectly acceptable, but understand there may be repercussions for doing so.
In all of these cases, the offense is a good defense. Be certain your company has a very clearly written social media policy and that every employee is aware of the implications of violating that policy.
Remember, surprises don't do anyone any good at all, but then again, neither do efforts to stifle protected speech.