Your Personal Life Isn’t Protected . . .

But your work life is! All workers rejoice!  Maybe.  Probably because the National Labor Review Board can get involved in this case (as opposed to Stacey Snyder who was still in the process of getting certified as a teacher and was still in school), Dawnmarie Souza’s wrongful firing lawsuit against American Medical Response came down in her favor this week.  Souza was fired and denied union representation when she bad mouthed her boss with other colleagues on Facebook.  As much as people discount the importance of unions in America, her denial of union representaiton was what brought her to the NLRB and  probably what saved her.  In the case of Stacey Snyder you have a student-teacher on her own at the whim of her school administration.  Because Souza was able to argue that her firing was a violation of labor law, the NLRB, a relatively powerful government agency, took up her case.  Aside from the issue of what kind of workers should be protected by the NLRB and other federal laws and just how much leeway teachers in training should have, the real sticking point here for me is that Souza’s speech was protected because it was directly work related.  Snyder’s “drunken pirate” photo was not protected because it was not work related.  Work related speech, ostensibly”public” in that it effects a number of people, remains something that we are willing to protect.  Private speech and the life we live outside of work, evidently, is something we don’t really think is worthy of protection  In American labor law at-will employment means at-will firing and people should realize that what they think is private and not related to their work life actually has a way of becoming public enough to warrant their termination.  Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and other social media ride the line between what we understand to be public and private, so much so that maybe we need to do away with these terms in defining types of communication.  It should be no surprise that the legal system is struggling to understand the separation between the two when it comes to social media.

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