- A group of Amazon employees said they were threatened with termination for public comments about the company’s environmental policies, according to a statement released on Twitter Jan. 2.
- The Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) members claim that in early September, one day after the group announced a climate walkout, Amazon updated a policy stating that workers need company approval before speaking to the press and using social media to discuss company practices. Group members Emily Cunningham, a user experience designer, and Maren Costa, a user experience principal designer, shared on personal Twitter accounts statements on climate change, and links to their media interviews with The Washington Post and BBC referencing Amazon.
- An Amazon spokesperson told HR Dive the external communications policy is not new and is similar to those of other large companies: "We recently updated the policy and related approval process to make it easier for employees to participate in external activities such as speeches, media interviews, and use of the company’s logo. As with any company policy, employees may receive a notification from our HR team if we learn of an instance where a policy is not being followed." The spokesperson continued: "Everyone at Amazon is a builder and encouraged to work within their teams to innovate on behalf of our customers, which includes suggesting improvements to how we operate through those internal channels."
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) defines the legality of disciplining or terminating a worker for publicly criticizing an employer — a question that has become more complicated in the age of social media.
The law protects the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work, with or without a union. And, according to the Nation Labor Relations Board (NLRB) , the protection "extends to certain work-related conversations conducted on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.”
But NLRB rulings are based on the nature of the social media content and the type of response by fellow employees. For example, in April 2019, the NLRB released an Advice Memorandum finding that the work rules of Colorado Professional Security Services about preventing harm to the company’s reputation were unlawfully overly broad.
However, the agency determined the company did not violate the NLRA when dismissing an employee for making insidious remarks about it in a Facebook video while on duty and in uniform.
"[The] Facebook video did not constitute protected concerted activity, and it was so egregious that other employees would not connect discharge to the overbroad aspect of the rules," the memorandum stated.
In Amazon’s case, experts say it’s not certain if the NLRA will protect the employees, or if the company’s external communication policy would be acceptable to NLRB.
Jeff Hirsch, a labor and employment law professor at the University of North Carolina, said on Twitter Jan. 2 that it's an interesting labor law issue. "If they were talking about work conditions, they'd almost certainly be protected," he wrote. "The company's environmental policy, however — especially under the current NLRB — is less certain. Shows why the NLRB's new moves are important."
As companies continue to create external communication policies to protect their reputations, Gen Z and millennial consumers are increasingly using social media to prompt companies to take a stand on cultural and environmental issues, including promoting sustainable practices.
Researchers have offered recommendations on how to engage in legal terminations and create social media policies that NLRB would likely accept.