Can employer apply a social media policy to personal accounts?
August 15, 2014 6:26 AM   Subscribe

I work in broadcasting, and our bosses have just handed us a social media policy. I'm wondering if it's legal.

Most of it is common sense - don't say anything on Twitter that you wouldn't say on the air, don't curse, be a journalist, don't express political opinion, etc. - which is totally fine when it comes to company-branded accounts. But they're saying that they are going to impose these standards on all employee personal accounts, saying basically "you've got a lot of followers because you're already in the public eye." It also explicitly says, "Think about what your post would look like if it came from the official station account."

We are being told that this standard is in place now and there will be consequences if it is not followed. Is this legal? What possible recourses might an employee have?

In case it matters: Employer is a non-profit organization.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I assume you are in the USA, which is a statistically likely assumption that I am comfortable making.

Is this legal?

It doesn't really matter. If it isn't legal and your employer chooses to enforce it, your only course of action is to sue your employer. If you have to do so, you're going to make yourself quite undesirable to employ in the future. You'll have to ask yourself whether your Twitter account is worth being perceived as a litigious employee.

For what it's worth, in general the described policy sounds quite appropriate. However, the NRLB has some very specific advice that may help you out.

What possible recourses might an employee have?
  1. Find a new job.
  2. Complain to management.
  3. Sue your employer
I suggest that 2) is pointless (otherwise you wouldn't be asking here). 3) is possibly fruitful for you, although I suggest the marginal gains (retaining your job) are not worth the marginal costs (having to work for someone you sued and being perceived as litigious by potential employers). If this matters to you, I suggest 1).
posted by saeculorum at 6:34 AM on August 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

What country are you in?
posted by Brockles at 6:34 AM on August 15, 2014

This is similar to the social media policy at the New York Times.
posted by Jahaza at 6:36 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but I would imagine it would be legal in the US.

Here's an interesting article on the subject from the NY Times. Generally speech about working conditions that is concerted to help improve the conditions is protected, but that something offensive is not.

The N.L.R.B. had far less sympathy for a police reporter at The Arizona Daily Star.

Frustrated by a lack of news, the reporter posted several Twitter comments. One said, “What?!?!?! No overnight homicide. ... You’re slacking, Tucson.” Another began, “You stay homicidal, Tucson.”

The newspaper fired the reporter, and board officials found the dismissal legal, saying the posts were offensive, not concerted activity and not about working conditions.

The agency also affirmed the firing of a bartender in Illinois. Unhappy about not receiving a raise for five years, the bartender posted on Facebook, calling his customers “rednecks” and saying he hoped they choked on glass as they drove home drunk.

Labor board officials found that his comments were personal venting, not the “concerted activity” aimed at improving wages and working conditions that is protected by federal law.

posted by inturnaround at 6:44 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's our social media policy (Toronto) as well. I work in media.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:37 AM on August 15, 2014

This doesn't seem unusual to me. Either accept it or find a different job.
posted by dfriedman at 7:58 AM on August 15, 2014

Create new accounts under fictitious names, and use those just for your close friends and family.
posted by alex1965 at 8:07 AM on August 15, 2014

This is totally legal. You can be legally fired for things you post on your personal social media account in non-work hours. There have been several cases involving law enforcement personnel, for instance. Courts sided with the employer in many of these cases because their conduct, on or off duty, is in the public eye.
posted by rawralphadawg at 8:13 AM on August 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I work for a government agency, and this is pretty standard for government jobs. It seems like it would be standard for any job which has a public-facing element. This is why some of your Facebook friends have pen names.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:30 AM on August 15, 2014

I think this is just the new standard we're seeing with social media and people who work in the public eye. Information [Employee X said THIS about Company Y/political issue/sensitive topic = outrage!!!!] moves so quickly anymore - whether the information is true or not - and companies have learned it is much easier to nip things in the bud than try to put out PR fires.

IMHO, laws and rules about technology are like reverse engineering - kind of a trial and error thing. A whole generation of people are growing up with their entire lives out there on the internet, the next generation - not so much, they are learning the sins of their fathers and keep their information more private. We get a new technology and we just use it! It starts with freedoms - texting whenever, posting whatever - and then bad things happen and people realize we need rules (social and legal) - like no texting when driving, no posting your personal opinion if you work at Z company, put your phone down when ordering coffee, etc. Its just society reacting to the technology.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:59 AM on August 15, 2014

I hope a lawyer weighs in here. You may find this article interesting.
posted by purple_bird at 9:27 AM on August 15, 2014

And here is a list of Social Media Policies from many, many employers both in the US and elsewhere. You'll notice that the list includes the AP, CBC, BBC and NPR. Noodle around on the site for more information on the phenomenon of Social Media Policy.
posted by John Borrowman at 10:10 AM on August 15, 2014

Yeah this is why a lot.of people have fake names and no photos of themselves on Facebook.
posted by fshgrl at 11:38 AM on August 15, 2014

This isn't appreciably different than a morality clause.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:54 PM on August 15, 2014

Look if this was anyway illegal you'd know by know by the high profile civil suits (or more notably the lack thereof) by Anthony of Opie and Anthony infamy or Justine Sacco of the "I'm going to Africa" idiocy. You have a right to free speech. You don't have a right to a job. You generally can be fired things said publicly regardless of whether its work related. In a lot of ways the company is making it "more legal" (or less likely they'd get sued) by giving you a very clear policy regarding their expectations. IANAL - my wife is an employment attorney however.
posted by bitdamaged at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2014

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