Take steps to reduce legal problems
By Robin Paggi
Marketing expert Ross Fishman advises: "If you don’t have a Facebook page already, create one." This advice is in Fishman’s step-by-step guide for people who need to generate business for their companies.
Lots of folks in the dairy industry have followed this advice. For example, one of Dairy Today’s 2014 Dollars and Sense contributors, Mark Rodgers, has a Facebook page for his Hillcrest dairy in Dearing, Ga.
Hopeful business generators are advised to keep their social media posts casual but professional. Indeed, dairy owners and operators need to be watchful about their posts on social media sites. They also need to be concerned about the messages their employees post on social media sites in order to avoid litigation.
Unfortunately, some employees post unprofessional messages about themselves and their employers. For example, a Florida sheriff’s deputy appeared in uniform on his MySpace page, wrote about putting people in jail and posted a list of his favorite things, which included swimming naked and drinking heavily.
Thirteen Virgin Atlantic cabin crew members posted disparaging remarks about the airline and its customers on Facebook. A Google new-hire divulged confidential information about the company’s financial situation and planned product offerings in his blog.
The bad news for employers is that they may face legal liability when employees engage in this kind of activity, regardless of whether it happens at work or at home.
Employees who post derogatory comments about a co-worker’s race, religion, age or other protected characteristic puts employers at risk of a discrimination claim.
Employees who post rumors or offensive false statements about co-workers put their employer at risk of a defamation claim. Employees who post sexually charged or offensive information put their employer at risk of a hostile work environment claim.
The good news for employers is that they may take steps to reduce the risk of liability. Employers may create a social media policy that, among other things:
- States that the misuse of social media may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination;
- Prohibits employees from posting during business hours, unless for business reasons;
- Prohibits employees from disclosing proprietary and confidential information;
- Prohibits employees from posting false information about the company, employees and customers; and
- Prohibits employees from making representations on behalf of their employer.
Although employers are allowed to implement a social media policy, there are some legal constraints that they should consider before taking adverse action against employees. For example:
- How did the employer access the information?
- Is the employee engaging in a legal off-duty activity or is it a protected concerted activity (such as employees trying to unionize)?
- Is the employee protected by a whistleblower statute?
- Is the posting in any way related to political activities or affiliations?
Employees need to know that misusing social media may have dire consequences for them as well as for their employer. The Florida sheriff’s deputy mentioned above was fired for his posting, as were the 13 Virgin Atlantic crew members and the Google employee.
Robin Paggi is the training coordinator at Worklogic HR, a human resources outsourcing company. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.