Google Pay Raises, Facebook Use Under Fire After Employee Terminations

Two firings-one of an employee posting opinions about her boss on Facebook and another of a Google employee for leaking pay info-raise the question: What's going on here?

'Tis the season to not upset your employer.

Google reportedly fired an unnamed employee who leaked a memo of the company's recent seemingly positive announcement of a 10 percent pay raise and a $1,000 bonus for all employees, according to sources who spoke with CNN Money.

With more than 23,000 employees worldwide and many key employees leaving the company over the past year, Google is attempting to keep employees happily retained by listening to their wishes for more money in their weekly salaries. Here's a bit from the leaked memo, via Business Insider, from Google CEO Eric Schmidt:

"We've heard from your feedback on Googlegeist and other surveys that salary is more important to you than any other component of pay (i.e., bonus and equity). To address that, we're moving a portion of your bonus into your base salary, so now it's income you can count on, every time you get your paycheck. That's also effective January 1st. You'll be receiving an email shortly with further details about these changes to your compensation. And one last thing ... today we're announcing that everyone will get a holiday cash bonus, too."

Employees wanting to share the good news with the world should take heed: Companies like Google are not keen on revealing confidential employee benefit information to the press-good, bad or otherwise. The question is, what message does that send to employees? How harmful was the information the individual shared with the media? Enough to get fired over, evidently.

Peter Kafka of All Things Digital attempted to get an explanation from Google over the firing and the concern over the press finding out, but was only left to speculate that the company was trying to keep the information from Wall Street investors, but even that bird doesn't appear to fly very far.

"I've gone ahead and asked Google for comment as well, but I'm not hopeful. (UPDATE: I can see the future! No comment from Google.)," wrote Kafka. "In the absence of one, I'll speculate that Google was freaked out that the 'leak' would cause it problems with Wall Street and/or the SEC. But again, if that's the case, that makes no sense-you can't hand out big fat checks to 23,300 people and keep it quiet indefinitely."

Speaking of firings, how about the termination case in Connecticut that involves a negative Facebook post by an employee about her manager?

In early November, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint on behalf of a terminated employee who worked as an emergency technician for American Medical Response, an ambulance services company.

Dawnmarie Souza contends she was fired after posting critical comments about her managing supervisor on Facebook and after requesting and being denied the right for representation from her union, Teamsters Local 443, according to the complaint. Part of the case is the denial of the union assistance, but the labor board also contends American Medical Response's Internet and blogging policies are "overly broad."

The company said Souza was a problem employee with customers and that Facebook had nothing to do with the termination, but the issue of what can and cannot be written in a Facebook post certainly makes this a potentially precedent-setting case for all companies and their social media policies.

"An NLRB investigation found that the employee's Facebook postings constituted protected concerted activity, and that the company's blogging and internet posting policy contained unlawful provisions, including one that prohibited employees from making disparaging remarks when discussing the company or supervisors and another that prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the internet without company permission," wrote the Office of General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board in a Nov. 2 statement. "Such provisions constitute interference with employees in the exercise of their right to engage in protected concerted activity.:

A hearing is scheduled on this issue for late January 2011.

Employees of all stripes will be watching with anticipation. The courts are not going to want to open the floodgates for trash talking of supervisors, but they also want to respect workers' rights to share their opinions with others.

Where shall the law go with this? We wait to find out. In the meantime, you may want to keep your online boss bashing as private as possible.