I met a neighbor at a recent gathering. He asked a good question. Can a boss can look at an employee’s Facebook comments? Apparently, a friend of the neighbor left his computer at work open to Facebook. "Jim" had posted something unfavorable about his employer, a major retailer. Well, there is a lot wrapped into that one scenario. If we discuss major retailers on Facebook and we get it wrong, or even if we simply exaggerate, we could expose ourselves to a suit based on business related defamation. Its best to just not discuss the quality of an employer’s products in a public forum, such as Facebook.
If the computer is owned by the company and we publish emails using the company’s server, we know from prior decisions that those emails belong to the employer, not the employee. So, yes, where the computer is already open to Facebook, the employer could probably view those comments. I presume those comments could not be published without the company’s server.
And, if we leave a computer open and unattended and the screen displays critical comments about the boss, then yes, the boss probably can view those comments – much as if we had left notes on our desk critical of the boss. An open computer will probably not be any different than open notes. I have not seen any cases that address that specific situation. But, I expect most judges would view an open computer much like open notes on a desk.
But, if the employee was discussing "terms and Conditions" of employment on Facebook with co-workers, then that would be different. Employees are protected when they discuss terms and conditions of employment with other workers – whether that discussion occurs on Facebook or elsewhere. An employer who sees critical comments shared online with another employee probably could not take action against the employee. That is, the employer could not take reprisal against the employee because s/he said negative things about the job to other employees. I have previously discussed the right to discuss terms and conditions of work here.