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Internet law expert can explain labor board's latest social media ruling

July 11, 2013

If you gripe about your employer in a Facebook post, can you be fired for it? It depends, according to several recent rulings and advice memoranda by the National Labor Relations Board.

Wayne State University Associate Professor of Law John Rothchild, an expert on Internet law, is available to explain the board’s position and the law as it applies to social media and employment. Rothchild of Ann Arbor is co-author of Internet Commerce: The Emerging Legal Framework (Foundation Press), a casebook that offers a grounding in the legal issues that arise in connection with doing business using the Internet, and other relevant publications.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, an employer commits an unfair labor practice if it fires an employee for engaging in “protected concerted activity.” An employee’s criticism of his or her employer may be protected, even if it is harsh and public. But not all criticism is protected. An Advice Memorandum the board issued in May concerned such a situation. The memo addressed the firing of a clerical employee at Skinsmart Dermatology who posted disparaging comments about her employer in a Facebook group messaging discussion. After her termination, the employee filed an unfair labor charge and claimed that her firing violated federal law. The memorandum concluded that it didn’t because her disparaging comments were nothing more than an individual gripe.

What can you post online about your employer without the risk of losing your job? When can an employer fire a worker for online griping without violating the National Labor Relations Act? Rothchild can help journalists find the answers to share with the public.

He has been a member of the Wayne Law faculty since 2001. For 10 years prior, he was an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, specializing in law enforcement efforts addressing Internet-based fraud and online compliance issues. For several years, he led the commission’s international consumer protection program. From 1987-91, he represented labor unions and pension plans as an associate with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser.

To reach Rothchild, contact Shawn Starkey at sstarkey@wayne.edu or 313-577-4629.

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