As many have come to find out, a social media post can get you in a lot of trouble in the workplace and even end your career.
On Aug. 12, white supremacists took to the streets in Charlottesville, Va. for a rally which ended in violence- leaving one woman dead after 20-year-old, James Alex Fields Jr., rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors. On Monday, President Trump announced "racism is evil" and said the Justice Department will open a civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack that killed Heather Heyer.
Since the rally, a social media account on Twitter, @YesYoureRacist, has been uncovering the identities of the white supremacists who participated in the event, publicly shaming them, and calling for their employers to fire them from their jobs. A 20-year-old employee at Top Dog in Berkeley was fired from his position with the hot dog restaurant after the business received notice about his involvement with the Virginia rally.
In January, a local brewery owner received major backlash for remarks he made about the Women's March on his personal Facebook page. Daniel Murphy, who runs Twelve Rounds Brewery Company, criticized the marches that happened on Jan. 21, calling them an "anti-Trump event." Several investors pulled out of Murphy's business and some people called for a boycott of Twelve Rounds Brewery.
While Murphy did receive some support from those who agreed with his views, the social media comments ultimately changed his business In April, Murphy announced in a Facebook post he'd be stepping down as the company's CEO because of the aftermath of his political remarks, saying it "affected Twelve Rounds too much."
Social media can be a ticket to unemployment in heated situations, especially when politics are involved.
This is why it's important for employers and employees to know their legal rights when it comes to social media policies.
Under the National Labor Relations Act employees have a right to act together to address conditions at work, with or without a union.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent federal agency which enforces the act and states employees have the right to join together on social media.
Federal law allows employees to engage in "concerted activity," which refers "the right to address work-related issues and share information about pay, benefits, and working conditions with co-workers and with a union."
The NLRB also states, "you have the right to take action with one or more co-workers to improve your working conditions by, among other means, raising work-related complaints directly with your employer or with a government agency, or seeking help to form a union."
The rights under concerted activities apply to actions on social media. Any social media comments or posts that fall under the NLRB's description of concerted activities can be freely posted on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and any other social platform.
In addition, some states such as California, have laws which protect employees from having to disclose personal online passwords to their employers or from logging onto their accounts in front of their employers. Under reasonable circumstances, employers are allowed to request an employee give up social media information if there's an ongoing investigation for misconduct.
However, the NLRB also clearly states the law doesn't protect individuals who are "griping" about a certain aspect of work without any mention of a group action or group activity in the workplace with the aim of initiating a complaint or change.
In other words, going on a lone, isolated Facebook rant about your employer isn't protected.
"Such activity is not protected if you say things about your employer that are egregiously offensive or knowingly and deliberately false, or if you publicly disparage your employer's products or services without relating your complaints to any labor controversy." according to the NLRB.
While employers do have to follow the law and give employees their legal rights on social media, they also hold the right to create and enforce their own social media policies. For example, while an individual has the right to freedom of speech under the U.S. Constitution, even if it's an unpopular belief, an employer has full rights to fire a person if company policy is violated. If a social media policy prohibits certain behavior and speech while following NLRB laws, an employer can fire an individual over a social media incident.
This is why it's important for employers to have detailed social media and work policy handbooks. It's illegal to have broad social media rules, according to the NLRB. Use of broad words or rules can make employees feel restricted in their social media rights. Employers must have specific policies on social media conduct for their employees and it can vary, depending on the company.
Employers can take some steps when creating and updating their social media policy handbooks to avoid violating NLRB laws.
Here are 7 tips for employers when creating social media policies, according to Bloomberg BNA:
1. Do not prohibit "concerted activity" as defined by the NLRB. Clearly state the rights of the employee in the handbook.
2. Make it clear personal offenses and remarks are not protected. Individual venting isn't legally protected. Demeaning, defamatory, abusive, or inappropriate comments and posts are not "concerted activity".
3. Be detailed and specific when writing a handbook. Broad policies are illegal. Specifically state what's not acceptable and what the consequences could be. For example, "disrespectful" is a broad term. "Bullying, harassment and discrimination for sex, gender, religion, race, color, etc" is more detailed. This type of inappropriate behavior on social media isn't protected by the NLRB.
4. Requiring disclaimers is acceptable. A social media policy can require employees to write disclaimers on their accounts stating that opinions and ideas are personal and don't reflect on the employer.
5. Remind employees posting illegal information or engaging in anything which breaks the local, state, or federal law can hold consequences.
6. Make sure employees know who owns what materials. For the most part, posts created during nonworking hours about topics unrelated to the business belong to the employee.
7. Protect confidential, proprietary information by using a social media policy that prohibits unauthorized leaks.