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Tweet Tweet Youre Fired


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This is a terrific educational piece covering social media and employers/employees. I found it very helpful for my business.

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Tweet Tweet Youre Fired

  1. 1. Summer 2009 Employment & Labor Relations Law Tweet, Tweet, You’re Fired By Patty A. Wise “ Comments Heard In, Around, and and collaborative advances, however, this platform.4 Twitter utilizes peer-to-peer Consequent to the Company Christmas may lead to increased potential liability rather than broadcast communication. Party Last Evening” for employers. Legal risks include pos- By using simple message service (SMS) “The Proper Way to Hate a Job” sible claims of libel and defamation, trade protocol, a user can send updates of up to “Reasons the Asian Database Adminis- disparagement, copyright infringement, 140 characters to members of peer groups.5 trator is so F#&*ing Annoying” harassment, discrimination, retaliation, Arguably, the peer-to-peer method would disclosure of proprietary information, and make these messages (known as “tweets” These blog entries and others led to the damage to an employer’s goodwill. The on the Twitter service) more similar to termination of graphic designer Heather number of lawsuits filed against bloggers private email and voicemail messages; if Armstrong, for violating her company’s has increased exponentially in recent such messages are not transmitted on an zero-tolerance policy for “negativity” in years. Bloggers may even take out an employer’s system, they are not generally her anonymous blogging on insurance policy—called BlogInsure— thought to be of concern to employers. Her discharge was the genesis of the term to guard against potential liability.1 “dooced,” referring to termination for Employers must balance the risk of inappropriate online communications related to employment. liability for an employee’s online conduct with the employee’s privacy. Lawyers The number should advise employers to draft policies of lawsuits “Save us White Boy!” that address the online conduct of em- “What I wouldn’t give to draw a little ployees. Such precautions are even more filed against Hitler mustache on the chief negotiator.” important if the employer maintains its own blog or Internet forum, or encourages bloggers These blog entries caused another its employees to engage in online social employee’s reassignment and a subse- networking. And as with all policies, uni- has increased quent lawsuit. The employee claimed form enforcement is critical. This article that the employer’s reassigning of her outlines some of the legal issues presented exponentially was retaliation for protected First Amendment activity. And “gripe sites,” by blogging and online social networking activities, and suggests policies to mini- in recent years. such as the former mize the risk of liability. even encourage employees to complain However, the micro-blog platform, which about workplaces. The Current Landscape of Blogs facilitates rapid texting via cell phones, Employers are increasingly using blogs and Online Social Networks results in near-instant public dissemina- and other online social networking tools An online social network is an Internet tion. The news of the Hudson River to further public relations, marketing, community of people who construct bio- plane landing and the recent earthquake and recruitment of employees. Although graphical profiles and create lists of other in China were publicly known before blogging may have benefits for employers, people in the community with whom they reported by the media because of initial these stories show why more employers are share a connection.2 Other people may Twitter messages. beginning to take note of the legal risks of then view the profile and connections. Large organizations use Twitter to employee blogging. Besides MySpace and Facebook, other educate the public about their products Emerging Web 2.0 facilities are user- networking sites such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, and services. Examples are Cisco Systems, created, interactive, and user-generated. and Flickr are quickly gaining popular- Jet Blue, H&R Block, Sun Microsystems, The very name reflects the more interac- ity. Social networks can even be used in and Whole Foods Market.6 Over 3,000 tive and collaborative aspects of this new virtual communities such as Second Life. people subscribe to Whole Foods’ tweets generation of technological advances that The term “blog” has earned a place about promotions, new items, and product are vastly different from the more static in Merriam Webster’s Online Diction- recalls. Whole Foods uses Twitter for pro- Web 1.0 technology. These interactive ary, which defines it as “a Web site that motional activities. For example, in the contains an online personal journal with “Tweet of the Day” program, the chosen Patty A. Wise is a partner with Cooper and reflections, comments, and often hy- tweet may be awarded a $25 Whole Foods Walinski in Toledo, Ohio, as well as a visiting perlinks provided by the writer.”3 More gift card.7 Scottsdale, Arizona’s police de- professor of employment law at the University advanced technology includes “micro- partment uses Twitter to inform the public of Toledo College of Law. blogging.” Twitter is the best example of of crime, road closures, and other safety 7 Published in Employment & Labor Relations Law, Volume 7, Number 4, Summer 2009. © 2009 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
  2. 2. Employment & Labor Relations Law Summer 2009 issues.8 Also, the Los Angeles Fire Depart- the New Jersey Supreme Court held that of its products or services. Online postings ment uses Twitter to send out wildfire Continental Airlines had a duty to pre- could also harm a company’s goodwill. updates.9 This second-by-second broad- vent defamatory and harassing statements In Varian Medical Systems, Inc. v. casting, to exponentially increasing groups made by its pilots in an online forum if Delfino,13 two former employees posted of receivers, can result in exactly the kind the company benefited from its employ- derogatory messages about their former of public dissemination that would cause ees’ use of the forum. employer and its executive employees on an employer legitimate concern. The court held that employers have a Internet bulletin boards. The employees Issues may arise even if employees do duty to stop co-employee harassment “in accused the employer of lies, hallucina- not belong to an online social network settings that are related to the workplace” tions, mental illness, incompetence, or use Twitter. Internet users often leave if the employers know or have reason to harassment, discrimination, and stalking. comments on message boards. Many sites, know that harassment is taking place. The The employees also implied that another such as, allow consumers to post court reasoned that employee had sex with her supervisor to reviews.10 Such dissemination of opinions obtain her job. In their defense, the for- also occurs on sites concerning hotels severe or pervasive harassment in a mer employees argued that no one would and many other products and services. work-related setting that continues take an outrageous anonymous post- Wikis—the first cousin of the blog—pose a pattern of harassment on the job ing on the Internet seriously. The court is sufficiently related to the work- disagreed, holding that the employees’ place that an informed employer accusations were libelous. Discipline of an who takes no effective measures to stop it, sends the harassed employee The Communications Decency Act employee could the message that the harassment is acceptable and that the manage- Often, the writer of a potentially libelous statement may be anonymous or judg- be interpreted ment supports the harasser. ment-proof. In those cases, some plain- tiffs have attempted to hold the facilita- as retaliation The Blakely court noted that the employer benefited from activity that tor of the communication liable. The server or a blog owner may be alleged to for engaging occurred online because it gave employees access to information on certain benefits be the facilitator. Courts, however, have roundly in protected and increased operational efficiency. The court analogized Continental’s online defeated these attempts based on the Communications Decency Act.14 This act speech. forum to a company bulletin board and immunizes providers or users of interac- concluded that it had “little doubt” that tive computer services from any cause if the messages were posted on a com- of action that would make them liable additional problems. The most well- pany bulletin board, such messages would for publishing information provided by known wiki is the online encyclopedia be considered part of the workplace set- a third-party user of the service. Blog Wikipedia, which allows Internet users ting. The court did not require employers owners are not liable for defamation on to edit an entry’s information. Although to monitor employees’ private email; it the basis of comments made by others. these sites may benefit consumers, they required only monitoring of a work- This is known as the Zeran rule.15 The act can pose the same problems for employers related setting.12 does not, however, apply to intellectual as online social networks and blogs. The decision in Blakely underscores property infringement.16 that if an employer maintains a blog or The consequences mandated by this Defamation, Harassment, and Threats other online forum, the employer must act are unsatisfactory to some courts. For “Cybersmearing”—libel and defamation monitor its usage and prohibit harass- example, the California Supreme Court that occurs online—is a key concern for ment. If the employer does not maintain noted in Barrett v. Rosenthal17 that it could employers. An employer could find itself its own blog or online forum, it should not sanction the blog facilitator. “[R] ec- defending its employee’s unauthorized still clearly prohibit online harassment. ognizing broad immunity for defamatory postings against claims of defamation, Most employers already have an anti- republications on the Internet has some harassment, or trade disparagement. harassment policy and a policy prohibit- troubling consequences. Until Congress Of course, employers must prohibit ing threats of violence; both should chooses to revise the settled law in this harassment in the workplace. Employers reference online conduct. area, however, plaintiffs who contend may also be liable for off-duty conduct, Conversely, employers may find them- they were defamed in an Internet posting and so must ensure that employees are selves in a position where they must may only seek recovery from the original prohibited from harassing other employ- prosecute a defamation suit. A company source of the statement.”18 Even if the ees in any work-related environment. might seek to prevent a competitor from facilitator knows that the information or In Blakely v. Continental Airlines, Inc.,11 posting false information about the quality speech is unlawful, such knowledge is “not 8 Published in Employment & Labor Relations Law, Volume 7, Number 4, Summer 2009. © 2009 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
  3. 3. Summer 2009 Employment & Labor Relations Law enough to make it the service provider’s also served on an interview committee to would provide in this regard. In the own speech.”19 select a replacement for her prior position. Register Guard case, the National Labor Employers that maintain blogs or Richerson openly blogged about the Relations Board favored management and online forums should guard against copy- replacement that the school district hired, found that the NLRA does not mandate right and trademark infringement. The describing him as a “smug know-it-all access to employers’ email systems for Communications Decency Act will not creep” and calling him “mighty white union-organizing communications.24 An insulate them from liability for copyright boy.” One entry was titled “Save us White Italian labor union recently organized the and trademark infringement that occurs Boy!” She discussed the interview com- first ever virtual protest in Second Life. on company-maintained blogs. mittee proceedings and noted that she The virtual protest included picket lines disagreed with “Boss Lady 2.0’s” decision and protest kits for all interested avatars.25 Online Social Networking to hire the new employee. She also criti- Employees disciplined for such activities and Discrimination Claims cized the teachers’ union, stating “What may contend that they were engaging in If an employer discovers that an employee I wouldn’t give to draw a little Hitler protected conduct. has engaged in objectionable communica- mustache on the chief negotiator.” Title VII also prohibits employers from tions online, then discipline is appropriate. After the school district became aware retaliating against an employee because he As always, employers should exercise cau- of the blogs, it reassigned Richerson to or she opposed any discriminatory practice tion and do so uniformly. The discipline full-time teaching duties. The district or because the employee was involved in could serve as the basis of a discrimination reasoned that her blog compromised her investigations or proceedings under Title claim if the employer treats similarly situ- ability to perform duties as a confidential VII. Other claims of retaliation could ated employees differently. and non-evaluative mentor. Richerson arise if an employee engages in protected One prominent case involved a Delta filed suit alleging retaliation for engaging speech under the Americans with Dis- Airlines flight attendant who maintained in protected speech. abilities Act, the Age Discrimination in a blog that included pictures of herself in The court analyzed the blog under the Employment Act, the Earned Retirement the Delta uniform.20 Delta fired her be- public concern test.22 Public employees Income Security Act, the Fair Labor Stan- cause the pictures were too revealing. The may engage in protected speech de- dards Act, or Family Medical Leave Act employee sued Delta for gender discrimi- pending on whether the speech impairs (FMLA).26 For example, an employee’s nation and alleged that male employees discipline or control by superiors; disrupts complaint on a blog that the employer posted online pictures of themselves in coworker relations; erodes close working is not properly allowing sick leave could the uniform while engaging in more ob- relationships premised on personal loyalty implicate the FMLA. An employer that jectionable conduct. Before taking adverse and confidentiality; interferes with the disciplines this employee may be accused action against an employee based on speaker’s performance of his or her duties; of retaliation. Lawyers should advise online conduct, an employer must ensure or obstructs routine office operations.23 their clients to closely analyze whether that other employees are not engaging in The court held that the online conduct the online communication contains any similar online conduct, and strive to treat would present “severe difficulties” in the protected speech. all similarly situated employees uniformly. proposed mentoring relationship. The court seemed surprised at the school Access to Protected Information Online Social Networking board’s failure to impose punishment, Another potential advantage of Inter- and Retaliation Claims calling the employee’s behavior salacious, net and online social networks is that Public employers must also be aware that mean-spirited, racist, and sexist. The employers may use them to analyze job an employee’s online communications— comments “far exceeded normal standards applicants. However, employers may not no matter how objectionable—may of decency,” and had no relevance to access or consider information that the involve protected speech. An employer’s matters of public concern. As a result, the law prohibits in making employment deci- discipline of an employee could be inter- court granted summary judgment to the sions. The employee’s online profile may preted as retaliation against the employee school district. Although the employer contain protected information about age, for engaging in protected speech. was ultimately successful in this litigation, marital status, familial status, or religious In Richerson v. Beckon,21 a teacher sued the case suggests that an employer should affiliation. The employer’s knowledge of her school district alleging retaliation for carefully evaluate online communication this information could give ammunition engaging in protected First Amendment to ensure that it does not include pro- to a discrimination claim by a denied ap- speech. Richerson had been assigned a tected speech. plicant. One possible solution is to have position that required her to spend half of Employees may also seek protection a non-decision-maker perform the search her time as a teacher and half of her time for “concerted activity” for “mutual aid or and report only the non-protected infor- in a coaching and mentoring role, where protection” in communications regarding mation to the decision maker. Employers she was to maintain a peer relationship wages, hours, and working conditions. It should also consider discussing any infor- with other teachers and give non-evalu- is not yet clear how much protection the mation that would preclude employment ative and confidential advice. Richerson National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) with an applicant, to verify authenticity. 9 Published in Employment & Labor Relations Law, Volume 7, Number 4, Summer 2009. © 2009 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
  4. 4. Employment & Labor Relations Law Summer 2009 Disclosure of Proprietary Information communications is permissible after the • whether the policy should address Employees should never divulge trade communications are sent.31 Also, an “anonymous” communications secrets or other proprietary or confidential employer may monitor communications if • whether the policy should include information in online communications. there is a legitimate business purpose or if both broadcast and peer-to-peer Misuse of company logos and trademarks the employee consents.32 formats is also of concern to employers. Employ- • whether prohibiting instant ers should update their confidentiality Drafting Policies to Prevent Problems messaging or texting is necessary policies, employment agreements, and Lawyers should assist employer clients in or desirable noncompetition agreements to address drafting clear policies that address blog- • whether permission or pre-approval online social networks and peer-to-peer ging, micro-blogging, and other online for Intranet postings is required broadcasting technology such as Twitter. conduct. Such policies should address all • whether permission or pre-approval technology, including instant messag- for the use of quotations, tag lines, ing and social network sites. Employers icons, logos, etc., is required for The policy should assess the unique characteristics of their workforce, environment, industry, email messages, either internal or outbound should advise competitors, and markets. • whether limitations on the use An employer’s policy should advise of electronic devices or ear buds that any online that any online communication could is advisable; for example, during quickly be broadcast to millions of read- meetings or while driving communication ers. The content may also continue to • whether the issue of blogs and circulate for years, even after revisions by other Internet postings should could quickly the original author. Defamation, harass- be addressed in settlement and ment, and other negative conduct must severance agreements with former be broadcast be prohibited. The policy should state employees to millions of clearly that users of employer-owned resources (including computers, laptops, For blogging in particular, employers readers. cell phones, and PDAs) should have no expectation of privacy, nor an expecta- should consider the following: tion of privacy in stored or deleted files. • whether to prohibit non-work Two risks arise in this area. First, there Employees should be advised that email related blogging while at work or on is the possibility that trade secret, propri- and Internet use on the company’s systems work time etary, or confidential information will be will be monitored. The policy should also • whether to address blogging outside disseminated. Second, an unauthorized advise all employees that all communica- of work, being cautions not to disclosure that becomes widely dissemi- tion systems, employer-owned or -issued overreach, and being mindful of nated may result in the loss of trade secret equipment, or data, in whatever form, applicable state laws status. Prohibition of such communica- belong exclusively to the employer and • what other applicable policies, such tions and prompt, effective action to may be used only for legitimate business as confidentiality, should be included address any unauthorized disclosures are purposes of the employer. The employee in materials about blogging necessary responses by employers in should sign an acknowledgment of receipt • whether or when to limit use of these situations.27 of the policy. Employers must also enforce the employer’s name or logo, and a the policy uniformly to prevent accusa- prohibition of online conduct that Monitoring Employees’ Communications tions of discrimination. Lawyers should could damage the employer’s busi- To reduce these legal risks, some em- also monitor state law in this rapidly ness or reputation ployers may wish to monitor employees’ changing area. State laws differ widely electronic communications. This is advis- on the extent to which an employer may An employer should consider all of these able in many situations, but monitoring regulate an employee’s off-duty conduct. issues when developing and enforcing poses its own set of legal issues. Monitor- All policies regarding online com- policies, to reduce the risk of liability. ing can implicate privacy issues and the munications should clearly prohibit Electronic Communications Privacy Act offensive or harassing communications Endnotes of 1986,28 which prohibits the intercep- or threats related to employment in any 1. Jill Schachner Chanen, Risky Blogness, tion of transmissions of electronic data by way. These prohibitions should also be ABA Journal, November 2008, at 25. computer. The act, which applies to pri- part of an employer’s policies prohibiting 2. Danah M. Boyd & Nicole B. Ellison, vate entities as well as the government,29 discrimination, harassment, retaliation, Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and expressly allows for the recovery of civil and threats of violence. Further policy Scholarship, Journal of Computer-Mediated damages.30 Monitoring of electronic considerations include: Continued on page 12 10 Published in Employment & Labor Relations Law, Volume 7, Number 4, Summer 2009. © 2009 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.
  5. 5. Employment & Labor Relations Law Summer 2009 You’re Fired continued from page 10 concrete suggestions for the develop- From the Editors ment of an effective policy. Communication, 13(1), 2007, available at http:// continued from page 2 In the complicated area of elec- jcmc.indiana tronic discovery, Michael Swarz, in .edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html. Cherie Silberman in an article en- the article “Don’t Get Left Behind: 3. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, titled “Employment Investigations: Why Leveraging Electronic Discovery, last Selecting an In-House or Outside in Employment Proceedings Matters,” visited Mar. 12 2009. Investigator.” This thoughtful article provides a number of practical insights 4. Other micro-blogging tools are Jaiku and reviews a number of key aspects in dealing with electronic discovery Plurk. of an investigation, including the matters in the employment context. 5. Jodi Mardesich, Business Uses for Twitter, selection of an experienced investi- Finally, the question of punitive Inc., Jan. 17, 2009, gator, the importance of objectivity, damages and their application in the networking/articles/200809/twitter.html. the implications of the Fair Credit employment context is addressed by 6. Id.; Heidi Homa, Police a-Twitter over news Reporting Act in this context, pres- Melissa Yoon in “Navigating Puni- alerts, Ariz. Republic, (Aug. 27, 2008), available ervation of attorney-client privilege, tive Damages in the Wake of Exxon at and the essential need for conduct- Shipping Co. v. Baker.” Ms. Yoon articles/2008/08/27/20080827abrk-twitter0828 ing a prompt investigation. highlights the recent recognition .html (last visited Jan. 17, 2009). The ever-emerging new techno- of due process limitations in the 7. Jodi Mardesich, Business Uses for Twitter, logy that continues to change the punitive damage award context and Inc., Jan. 17, 2009, global communication network and provides an analytical framework in networking/articles/200809/twitter.html. the American workplace is addressed evaluating punitive damage awards. 8. Heidi Homa, Police a-Twitter over news by Patty Wise in “Tweet, Tweet, In this regard, the applicability of the alerts, Ariz. Republic, (Aug. 27, 2008), available You’re Fired.” Ms. Wise covers a recent Exxon case by the Supreme at number of key points in connection Court is analyzed and discussed with articles/2008/08/27/20080827abrk-twitter0828 with this growing area, including respect to its potential applicability .html (last visited Jan. 17, 2009). the current legal landscape of blogs to the employment arena. 9. Id. and social networks; concerns with As always, your comments and 10. See respect to “cybersmearing” and the articles are welcome. This newsletter 11. 751 A.2d 538 (N.J. 2000). implications for defamation, harass- is sent with the hope that you are in 12. Blakely, 751 A.2d at 552 (“To repeat, ment, and threats; the Communica- good health and spirits during this employers do not have a duty to monitor private tions Decency Act; online social summer time. communications of their employees; employers do networking and discrimination have a duty to take effective measures to stop co- claims; and a host of other issues. Bill Martucci employee harassment when the employer knows In addition, the author provides Brian Koji or has reason to know that such harassment is part of a pattern of harassment that is taking place in the workplace and in settings that are related to the workplace.”). 20. Simonetti v. Delta Airlines Inc., 4–6,(Thompson Publishing Group 2007) (2000). 13. 113 Cal. App. 4th 273 (Cal. App. 2003), No. 5-cv-2321 (N.D. Ga. 2005). 27. See DVD Copy Control Assoc. v. Bunner, rev’d on other grounds, 106 P.3d 958 (Cal. 2005). 21. 2008 WL 833076 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 27, 116 Cal. App. 4th 241 (2004). 14. 47 U.S.C. § 230. 2008). 28. 18 U.S.C. § 2511. 15. Zeran v. Am. Online, Inc., 129 F.3d 327 22. Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563 29. Kratz v. Kratz, 477 F Supp 463 (E.D. (4th Cir. 1997). (1968). Pa 1979); United States v. Burroughs, 564 F.2d 16. Parker v. Google, Inc., 422 F.Supp.2d 492 23. Richerson v. Beckon, 2008 WL 833076. 1111 (4th Cir. 1977), overruled on other grounds (E.D. Pa. 2006). 24. The Guard Publishing Company, dba The by United States v. Steed, 674 F2d 284 (4th 17. 40 Cal. 4th 33 (2006). Register Guard, 351 NLRB No. 70 (2007). Cir. 1982). 18. Id. at 40. 25. Rick Smith, Virtual Solidarity: IBM Work- 30. 18 U.S.C. § 2520. 19. Universal Commun. Sys. v. Lycos, Inc., ers to Launch Strike in Second Life, Local Tech 31. Eagle Inv. Sys. Corp. v. Tamm, 146 478 F.3d 413, 420 (1st Cir. 2007) (also stating Wire, Sept. 22, 2007, F.Supp.2d 105 (D. Mass. 2001). that “Section 230 immunity applies even after business/local_tech_wire/news/story/1849345/. 32. Simmons v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 452 F Supp notice of the potentially unlawful nature of the 26. Patricia A. Wise, Understanding 392 (W.D. Ok. 1978), affd, 611 F.2d 342 (10th third-party content”). and Preventing Workplace Retaliation, Cir. 1979). 12 Published in Employment & Labor Relations Law, Volume 7, Number 4, Summer 2009. © 2009 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.