Can we discipline employees for complaining about the company on social media?
Probably not. Depending on what they said, and who responded to it, their speech may be protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Section 7 protects concerted activity by employees that relates to the terms on conditions of their employment. Concerted means “in concert,” so two or more employees must be involved, but this is easily achieved on social media if a co-worker even just “likes” the post. Terms and conditions could include pay, hours, work environment, treatment from managers, benefits, or violations of labor and employment laws.
We understand that this sort of social media activity by employees can be frustrating. One way to reduce the likelihood that employees will air their grievances on social media is to establish a means for them to do so internally. Employee surveys, comment boxes (whether physical or online), stay interviews, and true “Open Door” policies are common ways to solicit this feedback. The key is to be willing to listen and act on the information you gather. If employees believe that taking their complaints directly to a manager will end in retaliation, or that it simply won’t lead to any change, they’re more likely to keep complaining on the internet.