The explosion in the use of social media is driving the workplace into a larger arena in the debate over free speech and employee rights and creating new concerns for human resource executives at nonprofit organizations.
According to Karl Ahlrichs, a speaker and author, and Peter Petesch, an attorney specializing in employment issues, speaking at a nonprofit industry conference of the American Institute for CPAs, the National Labor Relations Board has shown itself to be the most activist, pro-employee board in a generation. Nonprofit organizations are not out of the reach of the board, since the NLRB protects all employees, not just union members.
For human resource executives, understanding employment law and how it relates to social media is far more important than ever as the use of such outlets as Facebook and Twitter continue to explode. Some guidelines for handling issues concerning Facebook and other social media sites are:
1. Federal courts have ruled that “Like” on Facebook constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment. An employer cannot penalize a worker for “liking” the competition.
2. Content on an employee’s restricted Facebook page may be protected under the Stored Communications Act (SCA) and the use of information on a restricted page against an employee could be prohibited.
3. Free speech protection may not extend to revealing terms of a job termination settlement by a third party. Confidentiality provisions may still extend to postings by a third party.
4. Employers, and employees, should assume anything posted on social media is public. Nothing is secret on the Internet.
5. Do a thorough background check on anyone you employ as a consultant or invited guest to your organization. Any skeletons can be unearthed on social media.
6. Tread carefully when reacting to social media posts involving political speech.
7. Reconsider before taking action against an employee based on their comments about the workplace, their working conditions or their supervisors.