Navigating Social Media Policy In The Unchartered Digital Era
While there is little debate over the impact of social media on businesses from a new customer acquisition, branding or revenue source perspective, its impact on corporate policy remains unseen. My colleague and I had the pleasure and opportunity to attend a “Bagel and Briefing” roundtable hosted by Kass Shuler, P.A., a Tampa law firm, specializing in employment law among other litigation areas. The briefing covered numerous “Hot” employment topics, but none more timely than Social Media In The Workplace.
More and more, in this digital era of instant information sharing, businesses are being confronted with new employment issues to which the solutions are unclear. What we do know is that employers are beginning to react, and react sternly, to the social discussions of their employees. The roundtable cited the US Marine who was discharged for criticizing President Obama on Facebook and, more recently, a Fire Captain in Miami who was demoted for a Facebook post regarding the highly publicized Trayvon Martin case.
While some of the aforementioned headlines seem like cautionary tales to employees, employers should take note too. In 2010, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—a federal agency tasked with protecting employee rights and policing unfair employer practices—issued a complaint against the American Medical Response of Connecticut, inc. (AMR) following an employee’s termination after posting disparaging comments about her supervisor on Facebook. The employee’s Facebook post became a forum for other AMR employees to express similar concern about the defamed supervisor. The NLRB, however, alleged that the AMR violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), giving employees the right to “engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” AMR settled the case and revised its social media policy.
The use of social media sites like Facebook as channels of expression involving employers is not the only challenge facing organizations. Social media accounts used to promote businesses and the ownership of such accounts have also been disputed recently. In the Maremont vs. Susan Fredman Design Group, Ltd. (SFDG) case, Jill Maremont, former Marketing Director of SFDG, alleged that her employer used her name while on medical leave to falsely endorse the company through a Facebook and Twitter account Maremont previously used to promote the company. The Illinois court agreed that Maremont had a “protected, commercial interest in her name and identity within the Chicago design community,” and since SFDG’s access to the social media accounts was undisputed, the case was permitted to go to trial.
In a similar case, also pending litigation, PhoneDog, a California-based tech blog company, is countersuing its former editor-in-chief Noah Kravitz, over the ownership of Kravitz’ Twitter account. While the twitter handle included the company’s name, it was managed exclusively by Kravitz. When Kravitz left the company, and changed the handle name, he took with him, the handle’s numerous followers—an act that PhoneDog claims cost the company advertising revenue.
Legal ruling in the Maremont vs. Susan Fredman Design Group, Ltd and the PhoneDog vs. Noah Kravitz cases could define social media practices in the workplace—at least in some areas; however, the Kass Shuler legal team sternly urges organizations to create clearly defined social media usage and ownership policies that are articulated during new hire orientation and as part of routine training workshops. Having this safeguard in place will mitigate risk to employers, avoiding potential disputes and legal fees, in this ever-changing digital climate.
For more information on this blog, please contact Casey Wilson: email@example.com