GUEST POST: Shocking Consequences of Social Media In The Workplace

February 1, 2013
By Eric B. Meyer on February 1, 2013 7:00 AM | | Comments

guestblogger.jpgThis week has been particularly dooziful -- that's a word, look it up -- with employee social media tomfoolery. You've got the employee asking to be fired on Facebook, HMV employees hijacking the company Twitter account to live tweet firings, a restaurant employee posting snarky customer meal receipts and, two words, one hashtag, #CrunkBear (NSFW).

So, the timing couldn't be better for our guest blogger here at The Employer Handbook. John Barrett is a writer and employment law activist. He enjoys spending time with his family and keeping up on relevant issues for employees' conditions in the workplace. He is representing employmentlawlayers.com with his writing.

After the jump, John brings you "Shocking Consequences of Social Media In The Workplace."

(Want to guest blog at The Employer Handbook? Email me.)

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As technology progresses from desktops, to laptops, to smart phones, and now tablets the legal boundaries of their wireless connectivity are also spreading. Employees have the right to share certain information with co-workers. What happens when workers are connected over social networks at the same time as the reach of the network permeates into the office via all these new devices?

The National Labor Relations Board has been ruling more and more in favor of employees in cases involving social media cases. It may seem like a simple issue - if companies don't want their employees to abuse technology in the workplace they should limit access to devices such as smart phones. But what if smart phones are necessary for keeping in touch with clients, managing productivity and more? Interestingly, the NLRB has been siding with employee's right to discuss work topics over social media in the workplace while at the same time causing employers to update their electronic information policies.

[Editor's note: As y'all know, the NLRB got served last week. Thus, the binding nature of recent NLRB rulemaking is questionable, at best].

Employees Have More Rights Than Ever

As devices with constant access to the internet take their place next to staplers and printers it is becoming increasingly clear that the lines between privacy, ownership of brand capital, and use of office space are becoming blurrier than ever. As the NLRB has maintained on several occasions, employees have a right to express their opinion when it comes to wages, workplace conditions, and anything else that might affect other co-workers in regards to their employment situation. Just how far this goes has met with only a few limitations.

When social networks exist everywhere and at anytime there can be serious consequences for over sharing. Employees now are the face of a company, even more than the slick advertisements on TV or on billboards. This means that employers can take new actions to create positive experiences for potential clients but must also treat their employees well to prevent a damaging backlash. The viral tendencies of easily sharable content could have enormous effects for a company when one disgruntled employee posts something less than glamorous about the place where they work.

If brands are now more in control of employees and casual web users, what rights does an employer have to curtail the use of the internet to cause damage? This is especially important during normal work hours when tensions and embittered nasty gram outbursts are most likely to occur?

Employers Reworking Electronic Boundaries

In a recent case one disgruntled BMW salesman was found posting sarcastic comments and pictures of his workplace on two different occasions. The first incident involved a nasty comment about the "cheap" hot dogs the dealership was serving as part of a sales event. His comments were protected because they had to do with the perception of the company, his place in it, and ultimately the commissions that he and his fellow sales associates could make.

On a separate occasion one week later he posted similarly sarcastic comments to his Facebook account that had to with an accident that occurred at a separate dealership. The other dealership was owned by the same owner as his place of employment. Later he was fired for his inappropriate use of his social media account thus reflecting poorly on his employer. He filed a wrongful termination suit and lost because the information he posted did not have anything to do with his co-workers or his workplace conditions.

Summary

What conclusions can be drawn from all of this? Surely employees have more and more freedoms than ever. They can use social media at work during breaks or not on the sales floor legally as the lines would be too blurry to ban devices completely from work. However, as the last case illustrated, employees must exercise extra judgement in what they choose to post. The consequences could be as bad as losing their employment or worse, the rest has yet to be seen.