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Originally published Monday, February 7, 2011 at 8:10 PM

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Feds strengthen worker's right to rant on Facebook

Government gives employers a reason to think twice before trying to restrict workers from talking about their jobs on Facebook or other social media.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Employers should think twice before trying to restrict workers from talking about their jobs on Facebook or other social media.

That's the message the government sent on Monday as it settled a closely watched lawsuit against a Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee after she went on Facebook to criticize her boss.

The National Labor Relations Board sued the company last year, arguing the worker's negative comments were protected speech under federal labor laws. The company claimed it fired the emergency medical technician because of complaints about her work.

Under the settlement with the labor board, American Medical Response of Connecticut agreed to change its blogging and Internet policy that barred workers from disparaging the company or its supervisors. The company also will revise a policy that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the Internet without permission. Both policies interfered with long-standing legal protections that allow workers to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers, the board said.

Terms of a private settlement agreement between the employee, Dawnmarie Souza, and the company were not disclosed. Jonathan Kreisberg, the NLRB regional director in Hartford, said the parties reached a financial settlement, which he approved. Souza will not be returning to work there.

Souza posted the Facebook comments in 2009 from her home computer, hours after her supervisor said a customer had complained about her work. The expletive-filled posting referred to her supervisor using the company's code for a psychiatric patient. Her remarks at the time drew supportive posts from colleagues.

Millions of Americans use Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Kreisberg said the board is looking at a growing number of complaints that explore the limits of corporate Internet policies.

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