Providing yet another example of how online social networking can amount to protected conduct under the National Labor Relations Act, the NLRB ruled earlier this month in New York Party Shuttle, LLC and Fred Pflantzer, CN: 02-CA-073340 that a New York City tour guide’s Facebook postings constituted protected union organizing activities. The board held that New York Party Shuttle LLC unlawfully discharged Fred Pflantzer when it refused to give him new assignments after he posted Facebook messages criticizing the company’s employment practices.
Pflantzer had a history of sending email to the company’s guides discussing work conditions, the benefits of unionization, and potential plans for approaching the NLRB. The postings that ultimately got him fired discussed similar issues and, according to the NLRB, were “an obvious continuation of Pflantzer’s prior organization activity, activity which was known to [New York Party Shuttle].”
Pflantzer’s Facebook missives were posted to a page called NYC Tour Guides, which is accessible only to New York City tour guides who have been invited to join. The postings referred to Pflantzer’s former employer, CitySights, as a “worker’s paradise” compared to his new employer, noted that “there is no union to protect you,” and complained that paychecks from New York Party Shuttle sometimes bounced. His postings also stated that when he began to agitate for a union, he stopped getting scheduled for work.
Finding that these statements were mostly true, the NLRB rejected the company’s contention that the postings were not protected because they were libelous. The board concluded that Pflantzer was improperly fired for conduct protected by the NLRA, and ordered New York Party Shuttle to reinstate him and provide back pay.
The decision is a reminder that employees who complain about workplace treatment based on their social media activity may be protected under the NLRA, even if their posts contain disrespectful or coarse language. Employers must put time into crafting an appropriate social media policy and think carefully about how to address violations.