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Are parts of baseball’s new social media policy … illegal?

Mar 16, 2012, 9:40 AM EDT

Social Media

As we reported the other day, Major League Baseball released its new social media policy.  And it’s good.

But do parts of it run afoul of federal labor laws?

That’s the question asked by lawyer Eric B. Meyer of The Employer Handbook blog.  He suggests that some of the prohibitions in the policy violate parts of the National Labor Relations Act which protect employees who engage in protected concerted activity. Which is a legal term of art meaning “employees can’t be prohibited from discussing working conditions.”

Meyer’s point is that the social media policy prohibition against disparaging umpires inhibits that. For example, if two ballplayers were on Twitter discussing the state of umpiring — a condition which has a direct bearing on players’ ability to do their job — that the NLRB would find that to be protected employee speech.

I’m no labor lawyer so I don’t have any particular expertise here, but I suppose I can see that. I’m curious, though, about  exceptions to that rule (there are always exceptions). Exceptions that cite other reasons — besides inhibiting employee communication — for the prohibition. For example, you know that two CIA agents wouldn’t be allowed to discuss the crappy food provided by the agency at the safe house where they debrief their Iranian double agents, right?

Baseball wouldn’t have a security argument, of course, but it would likely say that public discussions of the umpires would undermine the consumer’s confidence in the product, not that it’s simply bad for management that players are discussing it.  Maybe there are other reasons that would invoke exceptions. Anyone with any NLRA insight here is invited to comment.

Probably moot anyway. Because most bitching about umpires is done solo, and as Meyer notes, just one person complaining on Twitter is not protected by the NLRA.  And I’m really having a hard time seeing two players engaging in those kinds of conversations on social media.

  1. sdelmonte - Mar 16, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    When you signed on to be a blogger, I bet you never expected to spend this much time on legal issues. (I could ask the same of Florio and PFT, but any website with a “Days Since Arrest” counter is likely to need a lawyer more.)

  2. umrguy42 - Mar 16, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    I forget – does MLB fine players/coaches/staff for criticizing officiating, like several of the other major sports do? If so, how does that not run afoul of it? (No, seriously, I’m curious.)

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 16, 2012 at 10:33 AM

      I’m almost positive it is, you just don’t hear about it as often as say guys from the NBA/NFL.

      However, any lawyer able to clear up the discrepancy between two players talking about officiating and getting punished = against NLRB regs, but one person is not? Am I just missing a really obvious point?

  3. Kevin S. - Mar 16, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Actually, the employees aren’t prohibited from discussing workplace conditions, just from discussing them publicly. I’m not seeing this being an issue.

  4. Max Power - Mar 16, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    I’m not sure whether the Clandestine Service is unionized, but Iran is a right-to-work state anyway.

  5. Spiro Agnew - Mar 16, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    I for one hope we can return to an age where we don’t give one [expletive deleted] what other people have to say. And believe me when I say the irony of posting this statement does not escape me.

    • Spiro Agnew - Mar 16, 2012 at 12:39 PM

      Just to clarify, criticizing social media not this article. I think the world would be a much better place if more people cared about what Craig has to say.

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