“…See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature.” – James 3:5-6
The breathless news came over the wire this morning: woman fired over Facebook comments.
WASHINGTON — A Connecticut woman who was fired after she posted disparaging remarks about her boss on Facebook has prompted a first-of-its-kind legal case by federal authorities who say her comments are protected speech under labor laws.
I’m uncertain why, exactly, the federal authorities are involved with this. Apparently there’s a law that says you can’t be sacked if you bad-mouth the company on your own time. I’m sure it was intended to protect whistleblowers and other people who go public with serious concerns over unsafe or illegal practices… and not merely to keep malcontents free to kvetch.
NLRB officials claim the Connecticut ambulance company has an unlawful policy that prohibits employees from making disparaging remarks about supervisors and depicting the company “in any way” over the Internet without permission.
But why not? I don’t bitch about my job on the Internet… in fact I’m not sure that I’ve ever mentioned the name or the nature of the business in six years of blogging, plus several more before that in commenting elsewhere. They should have the right to fire me if I decided to unfairly damage their reputation in print – which is what Internet communication effectively is. There’s a permanence to it. That page is cached and screen-capped and quoted and it will never go away now. So, when you say your company is run by mental patients, the way Ms. Souza did of hers – surprise! They may not want to keep you around any more than you want to stay.
Applying the law like this doesn’t do what it’s meant to do. Heck, it even robs the rebel of the fun of being rebellious – you can’t have the thrill of risk and defiance if, in fact, you run no risk, if there is no cost to pay for that defiance. It’s a basic principle of life – the value of anything comes from investing something of yourself in it. It could be one’s time and labor, one’s money, one’s devotion. It must be something. Without that investment we are liable to treat as useless something that is actually priceless: this could be a job, a home, a marriage, or a life.
One thing in particular, though, jumps out at me when reading the comments from the Labor Relations Board counsel and the company attorney. Well, two things – the first is that both the feds and the business have decided to do all their business through lawyers. I’m not sure that reflects a healthy state of affairs. Second, is in their respective quotes below:
“This is the first complaint we’ve issued over comments on Facebook, but I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing more,” Solomon said. “We have to develop policies as we go in this fast-changing environment.” …
“If you’re going to make disgusting, slanderous statements about co-workers, that is something that our policy does not allow,” Barr said.
Hm. So… it’s all about the policies? We need a policy. We need a rule. We need to have outlines and examples and then hold a couple of seminars.
It’s one thing to just expect everyone to know where they stand, and how to conduct themselves, with no guidelines or precedents. It’s quite another to expect no-one to know where they stand, nor how to conduct themselves, unless all behavior is spelled out in an exhaustive and comprehensive policy statement. That’s not thinking – that’s a substitute for thinking, supplied to relieve us of the burden. It basically treats us like children, doesn’t it? Shockingly, when treated like children, people behave like children:
Principal: “Dawnmarie, your teacher says that you talked back at school today and wouldn’t cooperate. You have detention tomorrow.”
That’s MEAN. You’re MEAN. (Goes to mall and bitches about school to friends.)
Principal: “Dawnmarie, you skipped out on detention. Now you’re suspended.”
NO FAIR! I’m telling my parents.
It is essentially the same thing, isn’t it? Instead of doing the smart thing and backing up the proper authority, the “parents” here are suing. (And the idea of government-as-parent, even by analogy, is disturbing.) But a little thinking by all concerned could have easily avoided this. If you like your job – hell, even if you hate it but really need it, because you like to eat and have a house – then don’t expect to get away with being a jerk to your coworkers and supervisors. If you want to misbehave a little, then accept responsibility for it if you’re caught. A little prudence goes a long way… is five minutes’ mouthing off worth your job or your reputation?