Social media in the workplace and an employer’s ability to control it is a hot topic in today’s technological world. The United States Supreme Court recently said it will review a federal appeals court ruling that sided with Ontario, California police officers who complained that the department improperly snooped on their texts. Typically the courts have enforced the notion that any company hardware used by employees to send text messages, emails, etc. is the property of the employer and thus, the employer has the legal right to review the messages.
The federal appeals court in the California case distinguished the text messages at issue by the fact that the employees had paid their own money for text messaging capability. Nevertheless, while the United States Supreme Court has ruled it will hear the case, it is anticipated that the high court will side with the employer. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs , Google and IMs have all led to new concerns and risks for employers. For example, does an employer have the right to terminate an employee who posts a nude picture of himself or herself on Facebook on his or her own private time? It is quite possible under that scenario that the employee may have a viable defense that such action violates private rights.
Where’s the line between prudent monitoring and invasion of privacy? Whether you are an employee or an employer, you have to be concerned about the use of social media whether on the clock or not. It is very important that employers develop effective policies specifically regarding social media and that they apply such policies uniformly. For those employers out there, keep in mind that while you may be able to monitor emails, text messages and the like, various states, including Florida, have enacted laws making it illegal to listen in on and record your employees’ telephone conversations without their knowledge.
If you have any questions about social media or any other employment law issues, you should consult an attorney.