A federal court ruled against a Connecticut sports bar this week that had fired two employees for their actions on Facebook in 2011, deeming the firing illegal.
The impetus for the firing was an exchange between the two employees about how much their employer, Triple Play Sports Bar & Grille, had withheld from their paychecks for tax purposes. Both ended up owing the state income taxes, and railed against the bar on a Facebook comment thread. The only action that one of the employees took was clicking “like” on a negative comment. For that, they were fired. However, the federal court this week ruled that the bar must offer them their old jobs back, and also must give them back pay (however, their earnings from the past four years will be deducted).
In the comments, the two disgruntled employees had used obscenities while describing one of their managers. The bar cited a case involving a Starbucks employee that was fired for swearing in front of a customer. However, the court strongly disagreed with that notion, saying that the same precedent applied online could have a dangerous affect on free speech.
“Accepting Triple Play’s argument that the Starbucks [case] should apply because the Facebook discussion took place ‘in the presence of customers’ could lead to the undesirable result of chilling virtually all employee speech online,” the court wrote in its ruling.
It’s still a good idea not to disparage your employers online, but just know: if you’re complaining with a co-worker on Facebook about strictly work business and you get in trouble, you may have some legal recourse.