November 15, 2012

Post-election Facebook faux pas shine light on need for workplace policy

Posted in Computer Use, Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, Internet Policies, Race, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , , , , , , at 4:19 pm by Tom Jacobson

It’s been barely a week since the 2012 presidential election, but already we are learning of the post-election Facebook faux pas of several employees. For some, their on-line reactions to the electoral outcome have jeopardized their campaigns for continued employment.

For example, one of my readers (thanks, Jay S!) shared with me a Huffington Post report about a  South Carolina teacher who has been suspended and a Ohio teacher who is being investigated — both for their alleged post-election Facebook posts. In the South Carolina case, the teacher is said to have posted, “Congrats Obama. As one of my students sang down the hallway, ‘We get to keep our fooood stamps’…which I pay for because they can’t budget their money…and really, neither can you.” And in the Ohio case, the teacher supposedly posted, “Congrats to those dependent on government, homosexuals, potheads, JAY-Z fans, non Christians, non taxpayers, illegals, communists, Muslims, planned murder clinics, enemies of America, Satan You WON!”

The Los Angeles Times also reports that in Turlock, CA a Cold Stone Creamery employee jumped on Facebook after President Obama’s re-election and posted a racial slur about him, adding, “maybe he will get assassinated.” According to theTimes report, Cold Stone fired her and then tweeted, “The employee is no longer w/the company. We were as shocked as you were by her outrageous & completely unacceptable comments.”

Lastly, WXIA-TV of Atlanta, GA reports that a Georgia clinic worker was recently fired after supposedly posting on Facebook a post-election racial slur about President Obama .

Cases like this do not, however, mean that employers have unbridled discretion to fire employees who they believe have engaged in harmful or offensive social media behavior. There are numerous cases where employees and/or government agencies have successfully challenged employers who have taken such action. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the employees noted above were to challenge their employer’s actions.

What you need to know: If you are an employer, then before disciplining or discharging an employee because of his/her on-line behavior, you must understand and carefully consider the risks. To be proactive, implement and enforce legally sound social media policies. If you are an employee, think twice (or maybe three or four times!) before posting a comment that could cost you your job.

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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November 9, 2012

January 16, 2013 Employment Law Update Announced

Posted in Acknowledgment, Age, Arrest records, At-will Employment, Background Checking, Color, Conviction Records, Criminal History, Disability, Disclaimers, Discrimination, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, Fair Labor Standards Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Gender / Sex, Harassment, Hiring and Recruiting, Interactive Process, Leaves of Absence, National Labor Relations Act, National Origin, Posting Requirements, Posting Requrements, Protected Concerted Activity, Race, Reasonable Accommodation, Religion, Retaliation, Sexual Harassment, Sick Leave, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Workplace Posters tagged , , , , at 10:28 am by Tom Jacobson

Need continuing education credits?  Want to keep up to date on the latest developments in employment law?  If so, here’s an opportunity for you.

I’ll be moderating Lorman’s Employment Law Update in Fargo, North Dakota on January 16, 2013. The day-long event has been approved for 6.5 hours of HRCI and CLE credit, 1.0 hour of HRPD credit, and 8.0 hours of CPE credit.

In interested, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com, or click here for more information or to register.

I hope to see you in Fargo on January 13!

P.S. Don’t forget to ask me about a discount on the registration fee!

October 5, 2012

NLRB Rules in Favor of Employer in its First Facebook Firing Case, Strikes down “Courtesy” Policy

Posted in Computer Use, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 8:58 am by Tom Jacobson

In its first decision in a case involving allegations of a firing over Facebook postings, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled in favor of the employer. In the same decision, the Board struck down the employer’s “Courtesy” policy.

The dispute centered mainly around two Facebook postings by a salesman for Knauz BMW in Lake Bluff, IL. In one, he posted sarcastic comments and photos of a Land Rover after it was driven by a customer’s 13-year old child over a wall and into a pond at an adjacent dealership. In the other post, he criticized Knauz for serving hot dogs and water at a luxury car sales event. He was fired a week later. The primary issue in the case became whether he was fired because of the Land Rover photos or because of his criticism of the dealership.

According to the NLRB, being fired for criticizing the dealership may have violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA protects the group actions of employees who are discussing or trying to improve their terms and conditions of employment. It also protects individual employees if they are acting on behalf of the group. Here, the NLRB said that because the Facebook criticism “involved co-workers who were concerned about the effect of the low-cost food on the image of the dealership and, ultimately, their sales and commissions,” being fired for those comments may have violated the NLRA.

However, the NRLB also noted that posting the Land Rover photos was not protected by the NLRA. This is because they were “[P]osted solely by [the employee], apparently as a lark, without any discussion with any other employee of the [dealership], and had no connection to any of the employees’ terms and conditions of employment.”

The administrative law judge who tried the case, Joel P. Biblowitz, found that the salesman was fired because of the Land Rover photos and not because of the Facebook criticism. The NLRB agreed with Judge Biblowitz and, therefore, affirmed that the dealership did not violate the NLRA when it fired the salesman.

Another issue in the case was the following “Courtesy” policy at Knauz:

Courtesy: Courtesy is the responsibility of every
employee. Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite
and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers, as
well as to their fellow employees. No one should be
disrespectful or use profanity or any other language
which injures the image or reputation of the Dealership.

The three-member panel split 2-1 on whether this policy violated the NLRA. The majority ruled that it did. Their reasoning was that employees may have reasonably believed that the policy prohibited any protests or criticisms, even those protected by the NLRA. The dissenting judge interpreted the rule as “nothing more than a common-sense behavioral guideline for employees” and was not “a restriction on the content of conversations (such as a prohibition against discussion of wages)”.

What you need to know: Because the NLRB ruled that the salesman was fired for a non-protected reason (posting the sarcastic Land Rover photos), the Board did not rule on whether the criticism posted on Facebook was actually protected by the NLRA. The NLRB is likely to rule on that issue in future cases. In the meantime, the boundaries of what kinds of social media commentary are protected by the NLRA remain unclear. Therefore, employees should use care when posting work-related commentary on Facebook, and employers should use care when considering whether to take action based on such postings. In addition, employers should re-evaluate any “courtesy” rules to make sure they do not violate their employees’ rights under the NLRA.

For more information about this article or how to address social media issues in the workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

June 12, 2012

NLRB Issues Third Social Media Report

Posted in Computer Use, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , at 9:26 am by Tom Jacobson

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on May 30, 2012 issued its third report addressing social media in the workplace.  Like its two previous reports, this one analyzes social media policies used by various employers, and it describes how they are lawful or unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  This report covers concepts such as:

  • Use of social media and confidential information
  • “Friending” co-workers
  • Privacy, legal matters, online tone, prior permission, and resolving concerns
  • Expressing opinions
  • Bullying
  • Reporting unsolicited electronic communications
  • Unauthorized postings
  • Media and government contact

The NLRB’s third report then concludes with the text of an entire social media policy which it found to be lawful under the NLRA.  “I hope that this report, with its specific examples of various employer policies and rules, will provide additional guidance in this area,” said NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon.  Despite Solomon’s optimism, others predict court challenges over what may be an overly restrictive view of what workplace social media policies may say (see A. Smith, NLRB Takes Sledgehammer to Social Media Policies, SHRM Legal Resources, 6/1/12).

For more information about the NLRB’s other social media reports, see my previous articles, Social Media Report #2 Issued by NLRB and Social Media Report Issued by NLRB.

What you need to know:  It’s a fine line between social media posts that are protected concerted activity under the NLRA and those that are not. Likewise, it is a fine line between social media policies that do or do not violate the NLRA. Therefore, before action is taken against an employee because of his or her social media activity, and before social media policies are implemented, the NLRA itself and the NLRB’s position on these issues must be taken into account.

For more information about this article or how to address social media issues in the workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2012 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

February 1, 2012

Social media report #2 issued by NLRB

Posted in Computer Use, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , at 9:07 am by Tom Jacobson

In my October 19, 2011 article, Social Media Report Issued by NLRB, I wrote about a report issued by Lafe Solomon, Acting General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  His report highlighted several cases where actions taken against employees were evaluated under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  Solomon has now issued a second such memorandum.

The new report reiterates the main underpinnings of the initial report.  As summarized by the NLRB:

    • Employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.
    • An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.

Because Solomon’s reports quote actual practices and/or policies which were in various cases found to be lawful or unlawful, they are good resources for any employer to review when considering social media-based disciplinary action against an employee or when implementing or revising social media policies.

What you need to know:  It’s a fine line between social media posts that are protected concerted activity under the NLRA and those that are not. Likewise, it is a fine line between social media policies that do or do not violate the NLRA. Therefore, before action is taken against an employee because of his or her social media activity, and before social media policies are implemented, the NLRA itself and the NLRB’s position on these issues must be taken into account.

For more information about this article or how to address social media issues in the workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

December 23, 2011

Social media ranking: how much “Klout” do you have?

Posted in Facebook, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Media Ranking tagged , , , , , , , at 10:09 am by Tom Jacobson

I’m a 29.  I’m not entirely sure what that means, except that on a scale of 1 to 100, Klout says it’s my social media ranking.  I guess I should try to improve that.

We love to rank things.  From David Letterman’s “Top Ten” lists to  Olympic medals and the latest political polls, there is no end to the hierarchies we create. So, I suppose it should come as no surprise that we now have social media rankings.

According to a  WCCO television report, Sites Help You Manage Your Social Networking Imprint (12/22/11), sites such as Klout and Reppify now track how we use sites like Facebook and Twitter, and they then rank us based on our “influence and social network personality.”

From an employment perspective, social media rankings present an interesting dilemma.  On one hand employers need to rank people in order to make decisions ranging from hiring to firing.  According to Carlson School of Management professor Ravi Bapna, who was quoted in WCCO report, your social media ranking “… sort of gives you a measure in how present you are in other people’s minds.” Thus, knowing an employee’s or applicant’s social media ranking may help an employer better understand that person’s potential sphere of influence.  Bapna sees this as useful for employers.

On the other hand, employers who choose to use social media rankings as an HR tool need to be cautious.  As Bapna notes, a person’s social media ranking is “not based on what this person is telling you in an interview, [but is] based [on] how this person is actually behaving in the real world.”  Making decisions based on someone’s “real world” behavior certainly seems like a good idea, but “real world” behavior might have nothing to do with how well the person does his or her job, and in some cases, a person’s “real world” behaviors are protected by law.  Thus, making decisions about an employee or applicant based on social media posts relating to his/her “real world” behaviors can be risky.

To the extent social media rankings paint an objective picture of a person’s social media clout, they may be useful in some workplaces.  An objective ranking, if gathered as a part of an established policy and procedure, is certainly better information than the Facebook post showing Johnny wearing a lampshade.

For more information about this article, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

October 19, 2011

Social media report issued by NLRB

Posted in Computer Use, Employee Handbooks, Facebook, National Labor Relations Act, Protected Concerted Activity, Social Media, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking tagged , , , at 8:20 am by Tom Jacobson

In a report issued by its Acting General Counsel, Lafe Solomon, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has highlighted several cases where actions taken against employees were considered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  As Solomon noted in the report, “Recent developments in the Office of the General Counsel have presented emerging issues concerning the protected and/or concerted nature of employees’ Facebook and Twitter postings, the coercive impact of a union’s Facebook and YouTube postings, and the lawfulness of employers’ social media policies and rules.”

Among other things, the report summarizes four cases where employees were found to have engaged in “protected concerted activity” under the NLRA via their social media posts.  Conversely, the report lists five cases where no protected activity was found.  What made the difference in each of these cases was whether the employees’ posts related to the terms and conditions of their employment and whether the posts involved discussions with other employees (that is, “concerted activity”). In the cases where no protected activity was found, one or both of those elements was missing.

It’s a fine line between social media posts that are protected concerted activity under the NLRA and those that are not. For more information about this article or how to address social media issues in the workplace, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

October 12, 2011

What does your tech policy say?

Posted in Employee Handbooks, Facebook, Internet Policies, Misconduct, Social Media in the Workplace, Social Networking, Unemployment Benefits tagged , , , , at 8:27 am by Tom Jacobson

Facebook.  LinkedIn.  E-mail.  The web.  Smart phones.  We all know that the latest and greatest technology advances have become indispensable tools for business and personal use, but when personal use interferes with business, the troubles at work start to brew.   Employers with well-drafted technology use policies can keep those troubles to a minimum.

Washington County (MN) recently benefited from its own “acceptable use” policy in case decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals (Misenor v. County of Washington). The case involved Lori Misenor, who was fired after the county discovered that over 25 workdays, Misenor sent 342 personal e-mails from her county e-mail account during business hours.  Moreover, her personal e-mails often contained information about her husband, children, finances, extramarital affair or affairs, critiques of her job and coworkers, her search for a new job, and racially insensitive material.  The Court of Appeals concluded that this was misconduct which disqualified Misenor from unemployment benefits.

Key to the Court’s decision was the fact that Washington County had an “acceptable use” policy regarding its information technology resources. Regarding this policy, the Court noted:

In this case, the county has a policy that limits the amount of personal use of the county’s e-mail system and also prohibits e-mail messages with material that is ‘obscene, pornographic, [or] racially or sexually harassing or explicit.’  This is a reasonable policy that establishes a standard of behavior that the county has the right to reasonably expect of its employees…. Despite this policy, Misenor sent 342 personal e-mails over a 25-workday period. Many of the e-mails are lengthy, indicating that Misenor took considerable time away from her duties to engage in e-mail correspondence. In addition, some of her e-mails contained racially insensitive and sexually explicit material. Misenor’s repeated violations of the county’s policy display a serious violation of the standards of behavior that the county has the right to reasonably expect of her.

Information technology policies are important for many other reasons.  Well-drafted policies set the standards of behavior that employers can expect, so they can provide the basis for disciplinary action and a defense to many legal claims. However, poorly drafted use polices have been held to violate the National Labor Relations Act (see NLRB challenges Facebook firingFacebook firings revisited – NLRB extends its reachFacebook firing case settled).

For more information about how to craft an effective technology use policy, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA

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