Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cleveland Clinic doctor feeling ill after anti-vax blog post stirs trouble

A wellness physician at the Cleveland Clinic is in hot water following his blog post on Cleveland.com, in which he argued that parents avoid vaccinating their children. The doctor, Daniel Neides, is the medical director and chief operating officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.

In his post, he attacked flu shots for children and questioned the safety of childhood vaccination schedules, citing a debunked link between vaccines and autism. His byline used the Cleveland Clinic’s logo and identifies him a Cleveland Clinic physician.

The Clinic was none too pleased, and put out the following statement:
Cleveland Clinic is fully committed to evidence-based medicine. Harmful myths and untruths about vaccinations have been scientifically debunked in rigorous ways. We completely support vaccinations to protect people, especially children who are particularly vulnerable. Our physician published his statement without authorization from Cleveland Clinic. His views do not reflect the position of Cleveland Clinic and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken. (my emphasis).
According to Cleveland.com, doctors nationwide have also taken to social media to harangue Dr. Neides and the Clinic for his position.

So, here is the question for you, my employer friends? Should an employee face discipline (or worse) if he or she writes something online that conflicts with the official position of an employer. Take it out of the medical context. What if I work for a movie studio and write a scathing review of one of its films in the local newspaper? Or if I’m a server at a restaurant and blast the business on Yelp? Or post a one-star review on Amazon of my company’s product? It should not surprise that I would side with the employer in each of these examples.

The reality is that, NLRB aside, there are no free speech rights for private employees on social media. And, as has long been clear, blogging can prove fatal to one’s continued employment. Dr. Neides compounded his error by specifically identifying himself as a Cleveland Clinic employee in the post. His post does not hide his employment, and, in fact, make it appear that he is writing on the Clinic’s behalf. When his official-appearing commentary runs counter to the official medical position of his employer, you should be able to understand the employer’s outrage.

Employees, the advice is no different than what I have espousing for years: Think before you click, especially if you are writing about your employer’s business online. Employers, if an employee brings you public shame or ridicule because of something posted online, in most cases you are well within your rights to discipline or fire. This employee took a big risk by writing an anti-vax column; he should understand if his employer exacts a hefty price as a result.