A federal judge’s recent decision to exclude the Facebook “like” from free speech protections means that workers who also use the world’s largest social network should now just assume that “Big employer is watching,” and act accordingly, an author and labor law expert told Raw Story recently.
If upheld, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s ruling in Bland vs. Roberts could give employers with an inclination toward employee monitoring a free pass to probe even the finest details of their workers’ online lives and weed out those whose preferences or affiliations they find distasteful. Even in places like Washington D.C., Virginia and New York, where private sector employees are supposedly protected from discrimination on the basis of political activity or affiliation, a “like,” which isn’t classified as protected speech, could get a worker fired.
Thanks to national labor laws, employers in every state are forbidden from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, pregnancy and age (but not for sexual orientation or gender expression). Some forms of speech, like sharing information about illegal activities or concerted efforts to collectively bargain, are also protected on a federal level — and recent cases have shown that those protections do still hold up, even when Facebook is involved.
But thanks to the recent decision, which is likely to be appealed, some employees could soon find themselves in trouble if they clicked “like” on the Facebook pages of political campaigns that run counter to their employer’s views. In an age where seemingly everyone has a Facebook account and unprecedented volumes of information on peoples’ private lives is readily available, it’s not hard to see how this precedent could lead to some truly Orwellian scenarios.
Attorney Donna Ballman, who specializes in employment law and wrote the book “Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired,” told Raw Story that, in effect, “there is [currently] no free speech in corporate America.”
“Only government employees have free speech protection, and that’s very limited,” she said. “The First Amendment protects us from government action, not the actions of private companies. That means you can be fired because your private employer doesn’t like what you said, with very few exceptions.” [++]