By SAM HANANEL
WASHINGTON — Federal labor regulators say a New York nonprofit illegally fired five employees after they went on Facebook to criticize working conditions.
The National Labor Relations Board 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.
It's the latest in a growing number of government cases seeking to protect workers' rights to speak out about their jobs on social media. The case is among more than two dozen Facebook-related investigations the board has opened since last year, when it filed the first-ever federal complaint against a company that fired a worker because of Facebook comments, said NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland. None has gone to trial so far, and a handful have settled.
The complaint filed last week against Hispanics United of Buffalo claims that one employee used Facebook to post a co-worker's allegation that workers were not doing enough to help the organization's clients. That post prompted other employees to defend their job performance and criticize workload and staffing issues.
The nonprofit claims it discharged the five employees because their comments constituted harassment of a co-worker. A spokeswoman for Hispanics United of Buffalo did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
A hearing in the case is set for June 22 before an administrative law judge in Buffalo.
In settling a similar case in February, the NLRB warned employers against trying to restrict the right of workers to discuss jobs conditions with co-workers using social media. Lafe Solomon, the board's acting general counsel, has said using Facebook is the same as employees talking around the water cooler.