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Tiffanny Brosnan, partner at Snell & Wilmer LLP  

Click Here for Tiffanny Brosnan's Bio

Facebook: the new water cooler?
The office water cooler has historically been the site for employee gossip and gripes. Employers can only go far so in attempting to squelch this kind of talk. When it comes to compensation-related discussions, the California Labor Code gives employees the right to disclose the amount of their own wages. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects employees’ group discussions about their working conditions, including fairness of their compensation. And despite what many non-union employers think, the NLRA applies to them, as well.
 
So what happens when employees take their complaints to the Web? I had my first Facebook-related client question recently. A management-level employee posted complaints about his employer on a Facebook “wall-to-wall” chat. This means that it wasn’t just a one-on-one conversation with a co-worker. Rather, it was made public for all of the writer’s Facebook “friends” to see. And this manager called his company by a name that can’t be repeated here. One of these Facebook “friends” (who is probably no longer a friend) ratted the manager out to the company. The company wanted to know if they could fire the manager. With my limited knowledge of the case, I recommended that the employee could be fired. If an employee was overheard at a coffee shop complaining about his employer to a group of friends and calling his supervisors by disparaging names, would the employer have any qualms about firing him? Probably not.
 
Facebook boasts that it has 175 million users, with the fastest-growing demographic being 35 or older. With more and more working-age people joining Facebook, I suspect that the scenario described above is just one example of the Facebook-related issues that employers will face.