May 18, 2011; Source: Washington Post | Is complaining about your job on Facebook the same as a gripe session with your colleagues standing around the office water cooler? That's an argument the National Labor Relations Board is using to make the case that Hispanics United of Buffalo, N.Y., illegally fired five employees for posting complaints on Facebook about work conditions at the nonprofit.

The Associated Press reports that the NLRB "alleges that Hispanics United of Buffalo violated federal law, which allows employees to talk with co-workers about their jobs and working conditions without reprisal." Apparently one staffer posted a complaint from a co-worker that the organization's employees were not working hard enough to support its clients. Other employees responded with their own Facebook posts, both to say they are doing good jobs and to complain about what the AP describes as “workload and staffing issues."

Hispanic United defended its actions, saying it fired the five employees because their Facebook postings represented harassment of a co-worker. Hispanic United is not alone in dismissing employees for speaking out about their jobs on Facebook. The NLRB filed its first-ever federal complaint last year against a company that fired an employee for comments on Facebok. Since then, the board has opened more than two dozen investigations involving postings on Facebook.

When it settled a similar case last February, the NLRB warned that employers could not restrict employees from discussing working condition on social media sites.—Bruce Trachtenberg