The courts have yet to weigh in, but a recent settlement between the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and a Connecticut ambulance company may mean more freedom of speech—or at least retaliatory protection—for employees who post comments about their companies online.

The incident has several angles to it, only one of which relates to the Internet, which the plaintiff claimed led to her dismissal in a work-related dispute. Hours after a supervisor at American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc. had relayed a customer complaint to her, Dawnmarie Souza went to Facebook at home and disparaged the supervisor in no-uncertain terms. She was fired afterwards.

The Facebook tirade followed a disciplinary sessions at work at which the complainant claims she was denied union representation.

The NLRB later maintained that her Facebook commentary was protected speech under provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), though critics were quick to point out that it was not done as part of any work-related organizing activity or communal discussion.

In a press release, the NLRB explained the settlement in this way:

Under the terms of the settlement approved today by Hartford Regional Director Jonathan Kreisberg, the company agreed to revise its overly-broad rules to ensure that they do not improperly restrict employees from discussing their wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers and others while not at work, and that they would not discipline or discharge employees for engaging in such discussions.

The company also promised that employee requests for union representation will not be denied in the future and that employees will not be threatened with discipline for requesting union representation. The allegations involving the employee’s discharge were resolved through a separate, private agreement between the employee and the company.

Again, this does not throw open the Web and its social media as resources for employees to vent and disparage, but it adds a new twist to what is protected speech under the NLRA. The courts will no doubt spend the next few years sorting this out.

While at the same time the NLRB mulls a new regulation to require all companies to post details about employee rights under the NLRA, those companies that currently enjoy federal contracts do face a similar requirement. to inform their employees of their various rights. This can be easily accomplished by acquiring and posting Personnel Concepts' All-On-One Federal Contracts Poster.