Applebee's Worker Must Choose Job or Posting on Facebook

PHOTO: Jason Cook is facing termination for refusing to sign an agreement from making negative comments about the company on Facebook.
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An Applebee's worker may be fired if he refuses to sign an agreement that bars employees from making negative comments about the workplace on Facebook.

"I was pretty much told it was going to come to a point where I was probably going to have to sign it or be let go," said 36-year-old Jason Cook of Federal Way, Wash.

Cook has worked for an Applebee's franchise, Apple American Group, for three years and has no complaints against his employer. But he's concerned the policy would limit his self-expression. He shared those concerns in status updates on the social networking Website.

In an update on August 31, Cook wrote, "I have come home and talked to my family. I have wrestled with my conscious [sic], and weighed my options. A line has been drawn in the sand. I'm not sacrificing my principles."

Applebee's could not be immediately reached for comment.

"Ever since I was voiced my concerns, several employees have said [they] don't feel comfortable signing it but I have kids, rent to pay, and bills to pay," he said.

He also wonders just how far the negative comment restriction might go. "If I repost a comment by Bill Maher is that going to be a negative comment?"

Employer restrictions on social media Websites are becoming more common. The National Labor Relations Board issued its first Facebook ruling in November against an employer it said engaged in unfair labor practices for firing an employee who wrote derogatory posts about her supervisor on Facebook.

Since that complaint was filed in Connecticut, the NLRB has seen social media charges filed in all 32 of its regions.

"We're just trying to figure it out like everyone else," said Nancy Cleeland, public affairs director at the NLRB.

Last month the labor mediation organization released a report detailing the outcome of 14 cases surrounding social media policies at companies.

One of the common themes: use of broad restrictions.

It is this type of restriction that concerned Cook. In a comment on Facebook about the agreement, Cook had concerns about its language. "The words 'negative comments' should be changed to 'slanderous comments,'" he wrote to his family and friends on Facebook.

"I do understand their point of view that they don't want negative comments about the restaurant and company. I understand that part is legal," Cook told ABC News. "My problem is I post a lot of political and religious discussions on my account and, first off, if I inadvertently post something that may be misconstrued as a negative comment towards an employee."

Cook said he hopes the company will reword the policy and that he can remain an employee. He said his family is behind him "100 percent" if he decides to leave the company over this.

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