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Nata Metlukh

Want to gripe about your boss or your job via social media? You can’t say just anything.

Last summer, a salesman at a Chicago-area luxury-car dealership posted on his Facebook page that he and his co-workers were unhappy with the pedestrian quality of the snacks served at an event promoting a new BMW model.

“The small 8 oz bags of chips, and the $2.00 cookie plate from Sam’s Club, and the semi fresh apples and oranges were such a nice touch … but to top it all off…the Hot Dog Cart. Where our clients could attain an overcooked wiener and a stale bunn [sic],” the salesman wrote in a post that could be seen by approximately 95 of his Facebook friends, including 15 who worked at the dealership, plus countless friends of friends.

The next day, the salesman’s boss asked him to remove the post, as well as a second one containing photos from a minor auto accident at a Land Rover dealership owned by the same group.

When the manager asked, “What were you thinking?” the salesman, who had 13 years with the company, replied that it was his Facebook page and that it was none of the manager’s business. A few days later, he was fired.

The incident is one of more than 100 over the past year brought to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by employees asserting their right to tap out Facebook posts, tweets and other social-media missives that don’t sit well with the boss.

Complaints or gossip about the workplace that used to be water-cooler talk can now reach an unlimited audience, which is no comfort to companies seeking to protect their image. In their eagerness to rein in employees’ social-media chatter, however, employers have frequently installed policies that infringe on employees’ rights to freely discuss wages, hours and working conditions with their co-workers — rights protected by 75 years of federal labor law.

So can you flame the boss with impunity, or will you get canned for lobbing a foolhardy Twitter slam? The answer is not that simple, but experts in the law say there are some bright lines forming to guide employers and employees.