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Wed, Mar 2, 2011

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Social Media and Employment Law: Six Things You Need To Know

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Whether you’re an occasional Facebooker, a Twitter fanatic, or a well-known blogger, you need to understand the risks you face every time you post or click at work and at home. If you think what you post is private, or that you can click without consequences, think again.  If you make a mistake with your social media, it can cost you your job.  Here are six things you need to know about social media and employment law before you post or click:

1.  Social Media At Work: Your employer can, and very probably will, monitor your internet usage at work. Assume that every single page you look at will be reviewed by someone in the company. You probably don’t have any right to privacy for sites you view on your office computer. Many employers prohibit personal use of their computers. So do your blogging, Facebook, and Twitter on your home computer.

Before you click on a link, be sure of the source. Even if you open something from a friend without knowing its contents, if it contains pornography or something inappropriate, you can be fired for having it on a company computer.

2. Posts Aren’t Private: If you blog, or have a Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Twitter or other social networking account, assume that your employer or a potential employer will see what you’ve written. This is not the place to post pictures of yourself partying in the Caymans when you’re supposed to be out sick. It’s also not the place to post racy photos.

Remember that you’ve probably friended at least one coworker, and that person might run to the boss with your posts. And potential employers do check out your social media before they hire you. Think before you post. Don’t put it up if you don’t want it on the front page of the company newsletter, in your personnel file or attached to your employment application.

3. Disabilities and Genetic Information: If your employer or potential employer finds out about a disability or genetic information by looking at your social networking, they aren’t supposed to use it against you for hiring, promotions, or discipline.

Still, be careful what you put out there in the world. If you don’t want the boss to see it, don’t post it. And for goodness sake, if you claim you need light duty or accommodations for a disability, don’t post photos of yourself doing heavy lifting or physical activities.

4. Business Events: If you attend an office party, seminar or convention, be careful what photos you post or allow others to post online. If you are photographed sitting on a coworker’s lap drunk, you might be slapped with sexual harassment charges. Photos of you in a public place are probably fair game for the internet.

5. Insulting the Boss or Company: Before you write anything, assume your boss will see it and word it carefully. You’ve probably heard about the case the National Labor Relations Board brought against a company for disciplining an employee based on insults she posted on her Facebook page about her boss. That does not give you free reign to insult your boss online.

If you’re complaining about working conditions, not just your own but also those of your coworkers, you’re possibly protected from retaliation. Does that mean you should rush to post what an incompetent fool your boss is? No. Not unless you want to be fired. If you really want more details, check out my post about the case here.

6. No Free Speech: Only government employees have free speech protections, and those are very limited. You can be fired for your speech in the workplace or outside the workplace if you work for a private employer. The First Amendment doesn’t protect you at work.

So before you post that rant, your political views, religious beliefs or your opinions about your company’s products, think about what will happen if your boss, the CEO, and all your coworkers read it.

For more information on social media and employment law, check out these posts for HR and recruitment professionals from the Monster Employer Resource Center:

About the Author

Donna Ballman has been practicing employment law in Florida since 1986. Her firm, Donna M. Ballman, P.A., focuses on representing employees and former employees. Her practice includes negotiating severance agreements, defending against non-compete and other restrictive covenants, discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination. She has taught continuing legal education classes for lawyers and accountants through organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association, Sterling Education Services, Lorman Education Services, Alison Seminars, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and community organizations. Ms. Ballman has published articles on employment law topics such as severance, non-compete agreements, discrimination, sexual harassment, and avoiding litigation. She’s been interviewed by MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, Lifetime Television Network, the Daily Business Review, and many other media outlets on employment law issues. She was featured on the Forbes Channel’s “America’s Most Influential Women” program on the topic of severance negotiations and non-compete agreements. Donna’s blog on employee-side employment law is called, Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home: What You Need To Know Before You Scream “I Quit,” Get Fired, Or Decide to Sue the Bastards. She tweets about the latest employment law headlines and issues as @EmployeeAtty. She authored The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, a book geared toward informing novelists, journalists, and screenwriters about the ins and outs of the civil justice system, part of Behler Publications’ award-winning “Get It Write” series. It was awarded First Prize in the 2010 Royal Palm Literary Awards and was an Award-Winning Finalist in USA Book News’ Best Books of 2010. She blogs about using the law in writing in The Write Report. An honors graduate of Wellesley College, Donna Ballman received her J.D. from the University of Miami, also with honors, in 1986.

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