Souza declined a request for comment. A representative for American Medical Response did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Souza posted the Facebook comments in 2009 from her home computer, hours after her supervisor said a customer had complained about her work. The expletive-filled posting referred to her supervisor using the company’s code for a psychiatric patient. Her remarks at the time drew supportive posts from colleagues.
Chuck Cohen, a labor and employment lawyer and former NLRB member during the Clinton administration, said the case will have employers around the country re-examining their internet policies.
For more social networking news:
Social media monitoring services stir debate
Students use social media to promote safe driving
Do students need a social media safeguard?
“It clearly has resonance because we know the NLRB’s general counsel is going to take this position,” Cohen said.
But Cohen warned that the case doesn’t give employees free rein to discuss anything work-related on social media.
“The line can go over to disloyalty or disclosure of truly confidential information,” Cohen said. “This is not without boundaries, but we just don’t have a good sense yet of where the boundaries are.”
Millions of Americans use Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Kreisberg said the board is looking at a growing number of complaints that explore the limits of corporate internet policies. The board is an independent agency that supervises union elections, referees labor-management disputes and works to prevent unfair labor practices in the private sector.
Sara Begley, a Philadelphia-based employment lawyer, says image-conscious organizations may be taken by surprise that the law protecting employees who want to discuss working conditions extends to social media sites, which can potentially be viewed by thousands or even millions of people.
“I think it’s a natural evolution that the law is being broadly interpreted to include social media considering that it’s become one of the most prevalent methods of communication,” she said.