Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

July 5, 2012

Can you be fired for what you post on Facebook?

On a Saturday morning in October 2010, Mariana Cole-Rivera, a domestic violence advocate at the group Hispanics United of Buffalo, began the Facebook thread that would get her fired. She wrote, "Lydia Cruz, a coworker feels that we don't help our clients enough at HUB. I about had it! My fellow coworkers how do you feel?"

Within minutes, HUB colleagues began posting supportive comments. "What the Hell," wrote one, "we don't have a life as is, What else can we do???"

"I think we should give our paychecks to our clients so they can 'pay' the rent," said another, "also we can take them to their Dr's appts, and served as translators (oh! We do that)."

By Tuesday, Cole-Rivera and four of the co-workers who'd responded to her had lost their jobs. Their boss said their Facebook thread violated HUB's harassment policy by disparaging a co-worker. The workers took their case to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency charged with interpreting and enforcing U.S. labor law. A judge sided with them, but now the case is on appeal, and it's poised to help answer a question for the socially networked era: Which Facebook posts can get you fired? As more and more of our daily speech migrates online, business groups are hoping that the NLRB will make it easier for employers to control that speech. It shouldn't.

You might think the First Amendment decides the legal issue here, but it doesn't. The Constitution protects free speech from government interference. In the private sector, however, courts have made management discretion the rule. Employees who don't work for the government and aren't in a union can be fired or punished for almost anything they say, wherever they say it. Business groups say companies need the authority to put the best person in the job and to shuffle as they deem necessary.

Text Only
Slate
  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 16, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 11, 2014

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 7, 2014

  • Investing more money in tornado research would be a disaster

    This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding to focus on improving forecasts of "high impact weather events" like tornadoes and hurricanes "for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy."

    April 3, 2014

  • Hate With Friends, the fun new Facebook tool

    Hating movies, earworms, conventions of grammar, clothing brands, diet fads - you get the twinkle of pleasure without the glob of guilt, or the cold brush of fear. A Coldplay song doesn't know you hate it.

    April 2, 2014

  • dog-sunglasses.jpg Do animals have a sense of humor?

    Right now, in a high-security research lab at Northwestern University's Falk Center for Molecular Therapeutics, scientists are tickling rats. Their goal? To develop a pharmaceutical-grade happiness pill. But their efforts might also produce some of the best evidence yet that humor isn't something experienced exclusively by human beings.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_zuckerberg.jpg The logic of Facebook's multibillion-dollar shopping spree

    Yet again, Facebook has spent a gaudy sum of money to buy a hot startup. This time, it's virtual reality pioneer Oculus VR, at a purchase price of $2 billion. And don't be surprised if Mark Zuckerberg continues on his buying spree.

    March 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140325-AMX-BARISTA251.jpg Coffee's third wave? The Apple to Starbucks' Microsoft

    Do you remember when Starbucks was cool? It opened in Seattle in the 1970s as a local specialty roaster, a trendy alternative to the prevailing generic swill. But the price of conquest is cachet. What was once novel — the warm décor, the gentle music, the faux-Italian lingo — has become banal. Today's coffee snobs would rather snort Sanka than set foot inside a Starbucks

    March 26, 2014 2 Photos