Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Employees aren’t the only ones who have to watch what they post: Social media as retaliation

If you do a search of my archives you’ll find a slew of posts about employees whose posts on social media sites came back to bite them—either in recruiting, terminations, or litigation. A story in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review illustrates that employers are also at risk for the reckless use of social media. The article discusses an EEOC complaint alleging that a manager used the company’s Facebook page to post threatening messages in retaliation for a prior harassment complaint.

It is becoming increasingly clear that communication is communication, whether spoken, in writing, in a email, in a text message, or posted on a social media website such as Facebook. Fairly consistently, courts are ignoring the vessel used to communicate the message. If a message is retaliatory, it will be treated the same, whether told to an employee or posted on a Facebook page.

Other than retaliation, what are some of the other legal risks should employers be aware of concerning social media?

  • Harassment
  • Defamation
  • Disclosure of confidential or proprietary information
  • Commentary on on-going litigation

How can employers guard against these risks? Proactive training. Businesses that fail to properly train all employees about the risks of the reckless use of social media are acting recklessly themselves.

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