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Labor & Employment

NLRB Says Newspaper’s Firing of Reporter Over Twitter Posts Was Lawful

Posted May 13, 2011 4:21 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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An Arizona Daily Star public safety reporter terminated for posting what his bosses saw as inappropriate and unprofessional tweets did not have his rights violated under the National Labor Relation Acts, the National Labor Relations Board general counsel’s office recently found in an advice memorandum.

The employee had been warned about the content of his tweets on multiple occasions, the Delaware Employment Law Blog reported, and that figured in heavily with the NLRB finding, which is dated April 21.

In 2010, the reporter criticized one of the paper’s headlines via Twitter. Human resources encouraged him to discuss his concerns with colleagues rather than his Twitter audience, and later the reporter’s managing editor stated that he should not make comments on social media that could damage the paper’s reputation.

The reporter refrained from tweeting about his newspaper, which encouraged its reporters to use Twitter but had no written policy about it. And the employee went on to tweet a variety of comments about Tucson’s homicide rates. He also retweeted a local television news station Twitter post, noting a misspelled word in it.

The station complained to the newspaper, and the managing editor told the reporter to refrain from tweeting until she met with senior management. She noted that the reporter’s Twitter screen name and biography referenced his employment at the Daily Star, and linked to the newspaper’s website, according to Employer Law Report.

In response, the reporter changed his screen name, deleted some of his supervisors from his list of followers and protected his tweets so only people with his approval could view them. Nevertheless, the reporter was fired later that month.

“In this case, even if the employer implemented an unlawful rule, the charging party was terminated for posting inappropriate and unprofessional tweets, after having been warned not to do so,” the NLRB memorandum (PDF posted by Employer Law Report) stated. “The charging party’s conduct was not protected and concerted: it did not relate to the terms and conditions of his employment or seek to involve other employees in issues related to employment.”

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