Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NLRB Rules Car Salesman's Facebook Posting Not Protected

A salesman at a Chicago-area BMW dealership was terminated for posting photos of a car crash at a Land Rover dealership (owned by BMW) and filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claiming that he was principally fired for posting photos and sarcastic comments about his dealer serving hot dogs, chips and bottled water at a sales event announcing a new BMW model. “No, that’s not champagne or wine, it’s 8 oz. water,” the salesman commented under the photos. Following an investigation, the regional office issued a complaint. Administrative Law Judge Joel P. Biblowitz found that this activity might have been protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because it involved co-workers who were concerned about the effect of the low-cost food on the image of the dealership and, ultimately, their sales and commissions.

What clouded this case a bit is the fact the employee's Facebook page contained other content that seemed to clearly fall within the ambit of concerted protected activity but it was only the Land Rover post that was cited in the discharge.  The NLRA protects the group actions of employees who are discussing or trying to improve their terms and conditions of employment. An individual’s actions can be protected if they are undertaken on behalf of a group, but the judge found, and the Board agreed, that was not the case here.  The ALJ did not find the Land Rover picture and caption ("OOPS") to be protected concerted activity:
As Judge Biblowitz wrote, “It was posted solely by [the employee], apparently as a lark, without any discussion with any other employee of the Respondent, and had no connection to any of the employees’ terms and conditions of employment. It is so obviously unprotected that it is unnecessary to discuss whether the mocking tone of the posting further affects the nature of the posting.” Because the posts about the marketing event did not cause the discharge, the Board found it unnecessary to pass on whether they were protected. 
However, the Board did take issue with the employer's “Courtesy” rule regarding employee communications. Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce and Member Sharon Block found the language of the rule to be unlawful because employees would reasonably believe that it prohibits any statements of protest or criticism, even those protected by the NLRA.  Thus, the Board ordered Knauz BMW to remove the unlawful rules from the employee handbook and furnish employees with inserts or new handbooks. The decision, dated Sept. 28 but made public today, was the Board’s first involving a discharge for Facebook postings; other such cases are pending before the Board.

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