Your Employees: Turns Out They Can Say Anything They Want Online

Online worker complaints have to be handled carefully by CIOs
Online worker complaints have to be handled carefully by CIOs

Image Credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL)

As the person with the CIO job, how can you tell if you are doing a good job? Sure, there should be all of the standard business indicators – your IT budget is operating within its budget, you are meeting the needs of the rest of the company, the network is secure, etc. However, another way is to listen to what the IT staff is saying – are they happy? Perhaps more importantly here in the 21st Century, if they are not happy and if they are talking about it online, is there anything that you can do about this as CIO?

What The National Labor Relations Board Says

As a CIO your gut reaction when you learn that one of your employees has been trash talking your IT department / company despite the importance of information technology is to fire them. That’s understandable, your job is hard enough without having to deal with issues like this. However, it turns out that in this case, your gut would be wrong.

What a CIO can do about employees who complain about working conditions on Facebook and Twitter is a new area that we are all still feeling our way though. It turns out that in the U.S. this is an area that is controlled by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Their word is law and they’ve come up with a number of very interesting rulings in the area of workers complaining about their jobs online.

What the NRLB has said is that employers (that’s you) are not allowed to fire workers who are discussing workplace conditions with fellow employees via social media channels. The thinking is that the National Labor Relations Act covers workers when they are discussing work conditions no matter if they are in person or online.

Exceptions To The Rule

Now this is where things get a bit interesting. It turns out that workers are not permitted to do just anything that they want online. The NRLB says that they can talk with other workers about their work place conditions or they can even talk on the behalf of other workers. However, if they are just complaining to the world at large then their actions are not protected by the NRLB.

An interesting point that every person in the CIO position needs to be aware of is that their company policies may run counter to the NRLB’s position. Specifically, if the company has a social media policy that prohibits employees from discussing work conditions with each other. This kind of policy may violate NRLB polices.

Workers are permitted to use some (how much is not clearly defined) profane language when discussing their supervisors and others. However, the NRLB has been very clear in stating that any sort of physical threats or harassment are actions that are not protected under any circumstances.

What All Of This Means For You

As the CIO, it’s your job to create a working environment that everyone wants to be a part of. Even saying that, there will always be some workers on your team who are not happy with the way that things currently are. When this happens, they may take to social media to complain.

What are your options when this happens? It turns out that you don’t have too many options. The NLRB has very broadly stated that workers can say what they want about their working environment in the context of a discussion with someone else. What they can’t do is make physical threats or harass other workers.

We are living in a new era and all of the rules are not yet well defined. What this means for you as CIO is that you are going to have to proceed carefully. Do your best to make your IT department a place where everyone is going to want to work and then you won’t have to worry about negative things being said online…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: When you discover that an employee has been complaining about your IT department online, should you sit down and have a talk with them about it?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Nobody ever told you that being the CIO was going to be easy. What they also failed to tell you was just exactly how hard it was going to be! Sure, you have the challenge of mastering the importance of information technology and trying to stay on top of all of the changes that are going on in the world of IT, but there’s more to this job than just that. What too many of us are missing are the 3 critical soft skills that we need in order to be able to do our CIO job correctly.