Internet Law

Companies Face ‘Legal Potholes’ as they Crack Down on Workers' Social Media Posts

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A complaint set to be heard this week by the National Labor Relations Board illustrates the legal risks faced by companies for mistakes relating to social media.

Several cases have already resulted in lawsuits, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. “Facebook gaffes that can cause trouble in the workplace aren’t unique to drunken college students anymore,” the story says. “As more companies and their workers tap into the world of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, employers are tripping over legal potholes in social media.”

In the NLRB case, American Medical Response of Connecticut Inc., fired a union worker who made negative comments about her supervisor on Facebook. Company policy prevents online badmouthing, but federal law protects employees engaged in “concerted activity” to improve working conditions.

The Wall Street Journal has other examples of social media lawsuits against companies:

• A federal jury in New Jersey awarded two restaurant workers $13,600 in punitive damages and $3,400 in back pay after they were fired for postings on a password-protected MySpace page. The jury found that the employer, the Hillstone Restaurant Group, had violated the federal Stored Communications Act. The case was settled during appeal.

• Former Georgia high school teacher Ashley Payne claims in a lawsuit that she was forced to resign because of Facebook photos showing her drinking wine on vacation. The case is pending. Payne claims the school gave her no warning of the anonymous complaint against her, forcing her resignation in violation of state law requiring written notice and a hearing, the Athens Banner-Herald reported last year.

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