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Social Networks and French Labor Law: Beware of your Facebook Friends!!

The following is a post by Nicole Atwill, Foreign Law Specialist for France and other French-speaking jurisdictions and one of our new guest bloggers.

As Kelly noted in a previous post, we Foreign Law Specialists keep up to date with legal news and events in the jurisdictions that we cover.  Browsing through several French newspapers in the past couple of weeks, I noted two articles recounting the firing of three employees over comments posted about their employer on Facebook.  Two of the employees filed a complaint before the Conseil des prud’hommes, the first instance labor court, while the third opted for mediation.  In a case of first impressions, the French Conseil upheld the firing of the two employees based upon their Facebook comments.

The three employees worked for Alten, a technology consulting and engineering company located near Paris.  At the end of 2008 they exchanged disrespectful comments about their hierarchy – in particular, their human resources director – on their private Facebook pages from their home computers.  They even created a “club des néfastes” (club of the evildoers).

Their exchanges could have remained without any consequence had another “zealous” employee, who was one of their Facebook friends, not reported the comments to the management.  A copy of the judgment, which I found in another French paper, shows that they were fired for grave fault on the grounds of “inciting rebellion against their hierarchy and denigrating their company.”

The employees argued that their conversations were strictly private, while the company claimed that it had not violated the employees’ right to privacy as the comments were posted on an “open social network.”  The Court agreed with Alten, finding that “the pages where the comments were mentioned were admissible into evidence and showed the well-founded character of the firing.”  The employees’ attorney will appeal the decision to the Paris Court of Appeal.  The case may even go up to the Cour de Cassation, France’s Supreme Court for Civil and Criminal matters, as the hybrid nature – semi private and semi public – of social networks make the interpretation of labor laws more difficult.

In the meantime, employees who feel the need to complain about their management team should do it the old fashioned way – at the coffee shop while enjoying their latte!  This is permissible in France, as well as in the United States.

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