Category Archives: 2nd Circuit

Facebook Comments and “Likes“ Protected Activity?

Social Media keyboard

Is commenting on a Facebook post protected, concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act?  What about hitting the “Like” button on a post?  The Second Circuit recently agreed with the National Labor Relations Board that they are.

In a decision last year, the Board ruled that a sports bar had unlawfully terminated two employees for their activity on Facebook.  The first employee had commented on a status update of a co-worker stating that the bar’s owners “couldn’t even do the tax paperwork correctly” and that someone should do the owners “a favor” and purchase the business from them.  The employee’s comment stated that she “owed too,” and referred to one of the owners as an “asshole.”  The second employee “liked” the first employee’s status update.  The Board held that both employees’ had engaged in protected, concerted activity under the Act, and that the bar had violated the Act when it terminated their employment.

Last month, the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont) affirmed the Board’s decision.  The court held that the employees’ actions amounted to a group of employees discussing labor issues and were protected by the Act.  The bar argued that the Facebook comment and “like” were meant to defame the bar – with the use of profanity – and thus brought it outside the protections of the Act.  However, the court reasoned that the Facebook activity at issue was different from obscenities voiced by employees in earshot of customers in a crowded shop (even though customers could view the comments on Facebook).  The court also noted that the bar’s internet and blogging policy could be read as prohibiting employees from protected activity under the Act.

The take-away here?  It’s a good time for employers to review their social media policies.  As we have warned in the past, these policies as written and as enforced must not “chill” employees from engaging in protected, concerted activity.  There is often a fine-line between lawfully prohibiting certain types of activities on the internet and unlawfully interfering with employees’ protected activity.  It’s a good idea to check with counsel on how to best craft the wording of these policies to protect the employer’s interests while not interfering with employees’ rights.

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2nd Circuit Speaks On SEC Whistleblower Retaliation

pillarsOn September 10th, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals (New York, Connecticut and Vermont) handed down its decision in Berman v. Neo@Ogilvy, holding that an internal report of what an employee deems to be a securities law violation can protect him from retaliation under the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Act defines “whistleblower” as “any individual who provides … information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the Commission, in a manner established by rule or regulation, by the Commission.” (Emphasis added.)  And retaliation against “whistleblowers” is prohibited by the Act. However, the Act also prohibits retaliation against those making disclosures that are protected by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which provides protection for internal reports.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken the position (in its regulations and interpretive rules) that although “whistleblower” is defined in the Act as an individual who provides information to the Commission, this other provision of the anti-retaliation section protects individuals who make an internal report to their employer.

In 2013, the 5th Circuit (Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi) rejected the SEC’s position, and ruled that the plain language of the Act requires a covered “whistleblower” – an individual who provides information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the Commission. Thus, under the 5th Circuit’s holding an employee can’t base a retaliation claim on an internal report.

In this case, the 2nd Circuit disagreed with the 5th Circuit, giving deference to the SEC’s interpretation of the Act. According to the 2nd Circuit, employees do not need to report the alleged violations of securities laws to the SEC to be protected from retaliation under the Act.

Given the circuit split, it is quite possible that the issue will find itself before the Supreme Court. Until then, and regardless of what state(s) you operate in, we recommend that you carefully consider any employment action that follows an internal or external complaint of any kind to determine whether the complaint may be considered “protected activity” and whether taking the employment action opens you to a retaliation claim.