Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Are Meerkat and Periscope the “next big thing” for employers to worry about?

Have you downloaded Meerkat or Periscope to your iPhone? Do you even know what Meerkat and Periscope are? They are new apps that permit you to live-stream video. They essentially work the same way—when you launch a live-stream, the app tweets out a link for your followers to watch your video. The only real difference in the experience (aside from the aesthetics of the apps) is that once you stop your stream on Meerkat the link goes dead and the video disappears, while Periscope can keep the link live for 24 hours of replay viewing.

Last week, within hours of Meerkat’s and Periscope’s launches, a massive building explosion on New York’s Lower East Side gave us a glimpse of the potential power of these apps, as they turned everyone with an iPhone into instant video-journalists. As for me, so far I’ve only used them to send out video of my dog sleeping on the couch (although I hope to put Periscope to use for some video legal updates in the near future).

Should employers worry about these apps? They offer employees tremendous power. Imagine your workers live-streaming alleged safety violations in your plant, or active sexual harassment, or a termination meeting, or an employer trying to break up a picket line?

Yet, this technology isn’t the-sky-is-falling for employers. For years, the iPhone has placed this same power into employees’ hands. An iPhone + an active internet connection + a YouTube account isn’t that much different than these new live-streaming apps. These apps remove some of the friction from the posting experience, but otherwise don’t create any new opportunities for your employees to journalize your workplace.

Employers shouldn’t knee-jerk ban these apps (or mobile devices in general) from the workplace. It’s possible that the NLRB would permit employers to ban the use of these apps in the workplace, but it’s just as likely that the NLRB will look at such policies with a harsh eye under its section-7 lens. Until we get some guidance from courts on these issues, there is real risk in broad-based bans of mobile technologies or apps.

Instead of rolling out a reactionary policy that could catch the NLRB’s attention, train your employees on their responsible use of the Internet, and your managers and supervisors on the need to be very aware of the possibility that everything that happens at work no longer necessarily stays at work. Indeed, if it happens at work, it is just as likely to end up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube … or Periscope.

You can follow me on Periscope @jonhyman, and tune in at 5 pm on April 11, where I’ll be broadcasting some of my daughter’s performance live from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.