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Online postings by employees may be protected speech

Many California residents visit online review portals like Yelp or Angie's List before choosing a restaurant or hiring a plumber, and the information age has given ordinary people the ability to make their feelings known to a vast audience. Online ratings and reviews have changed the way the nation dines, shops and does business, but the Internet also allows unhappy employees to post accounts of workplace harassment or mistreatment.

Yelp is one of the country's most popular online review websites, and the San Francisco-based company encourages its contributors to be candid when rating local businesses. However, Yelp was less than happy in February when one of its account executives posted a scathing letter online that complained about poor compensation and a depressing work environment. A second account executive posted a similar letter online the following month. Both workers were subsequently terminated.

The National Labor Relations Act protects speech made by workers in furtherance of a collective bargaining effort. The 1935 law protects workers who are not members of a trade union and even covers speech that is negative or critical of employers. Statements made by two or more workers to further a collective bargaining goal would be seen as protected by the National Labor Relations Board, and even a scathing letter posted by a single worker could be protected if it encouraged other workers to file a complaint.

Experienced attorneys may be able to assist unhappy workers who want to make their opinions known online. Attorneys may encourage disgruntled workers to enlist the help of some of their colleagues or include a call to action in their statements. When workers are fired for making statements protected by the NLRA, attorneys could file wrongful termination lawsuits against their employers.

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