It's Getting Harder for Your Employer to Use Facebook Against You

The latest ruling forced a company to hire back employees it had fired

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People do stupid things on Facebook, like posting drunken photos or writing thoughtless wall posts. But should one's ignorant social media habits reflect on one's standing as a hard-working employee? More and more it looks like the answer to that is no, at least in the eyes of the law. In the most recent ruling, a judge found that a company had to hire back the employees it fired for complaining about work on Facebook, reports "Administrative Law Judge Arthur J. Amchan said the employees' off-hours griping about their working conditions was protected by the National Labor Relations Act." The workers had whined about their jobs on Facebook and the law has found it doesn't matter--it seems that our online lives can't be used against us at work.

The decision marks the first time a court has ordered a company to stick its tail between its legs and rehire its ousted workers, but it's just a continuation of a trend that limits employer power over Facebook. People have gotten canned for rash Facebook postings, but the law has stepped in. Earlier this year, a settlement required the American Medical Response of Connecticut to revise its policies and lay off Facebook patrolling, reported ZDNet's Sam Diaz. "The NLRB had argued in its November 2010 filing that, under the National Labor Relations Act, employees are permitted to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with co-workers and others--regardless of whether those conversations take place at the water cooler, in a bar after work or, yes, even on a Facebook page."

Even screening processes using Facebook have gotten more lax, while privacy settings and protections make it more difficult for outsiders to look in. And those who have been more open about their Facebook snooping haven't fared as well. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which once requested Facebook passwords for potential employees, suspended this practice earlier this year after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland pushed back, reported The Washington Post. "Deborah Jeon, legal director of the state's ACLU, called on Maryland to end the practice, saying it amounted to the state demanding 'to listen in on [prospective employees'] personal telephone calls as a condition of employment.'"

Facebook isn't private. We know that by now. But that doesn't mean your boss can police your careless wall-posting. That said, the best way to avoid getting fired over a Facebook message would be not to message at all.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.