The New Hampshire Legislature is hard at work addressing a variety of proposed bills which would impact the states’s workplaces, large and small. On January 28, the Senate Commerce Committee rejected on a 4 to 1 vote the first of those bills on which a recommendation was made. SB 302
, entitled “An Act Relative to Public or Private Criticism of Employers by Employees” simply stated that criticism of an employer by an employee could not be grounds for termination.
The Committee’s discussion of the Bill, sponsored by Sen. David Pierce, D-Lebanon, centered around the balancing of an employee’s right to free speech and an employer’s right to protect the reputation of its business. Concerns were also expressed about watering down the proposition of “at-will” employment.
Ultimately, the scant language of the Bill provided little guidance as to what might constitute “criticism.” Although this Bill will likely not be resurrected during this legislative session, employers should bear in mind that employees do have protections under federal law, specifically the National Labor Relations Act, which make it difficult for a business to fire an individual for speaking out against an employer with regard to conditions of work. Even non-union employees are protected when they engage in “concerted activity” which has been defined broadly enough to include complaining about work assignments on Facebook or discussing wages and benefits with fellow employees.
Employers are free to establish policies and have employees sign agreements to protect trade secrets and business information and to prevent employees from engaging in harassment or defamation. It is well worth the time and effort to review those agreements and policies periodically to make sure they provide sufficient protection.