Many companies are still struggling to find the perfect match between workplace guidelines and legal precedence — and how far social media policies can extend outside of the traditional four walls. What was seen as the opportunity to create legal precedence — or at the very least clarity — regarding this, was the highly watched case of Souza vs AMR.
Back in 2009, Dawnmarie Souza, an emergency medical technician with ambulance service company American Medical Response of Connecticut, was fired after criticizing her supervisor on Facebook. Her case was scheduled to be heard before a federal labor board judge in Hartford, Connecticut, on Feb. 8. But what many companies were hoping would be a way to establish legal precedence on workplace behavior and social media has now been settled out of court, leaving still many unanswered questions as to what is and what’s not enforceable when it comes to social media participation.
Employees may be rejoicing, but some legal experts are disappointed that the National Labor Relations Board reached a settlement on Feb. 7 with a company that fired an employee for bad mouthing her boss on Facebook, dashing hopes for a legal precedent to guide employers’ social media policies.
“I had hoped we would get an administrative law judge’s decision on this issue,” said James Hays, an employment lawyer who is a partner in the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton in New York.
In the settlement, American Medical Response agreed to “revise its overly broad rules” to ensure that employees’ rights to discuss working conditions are protected, according to an NLRB written statement. Souza was fired for violating a policy that prohibits employees from depicting the company “in any way” on social media sites on which they post a picture of themselves—a policy that the board asserted was too broad. Additional details of the settlement are confidential.
Source: Workplace Guidance Remains Elusive After Facebook Posting Case Is Settled, Workforce.com
So what’s next? Well, until the next case comes along, companies will continue to tread lightly through the murky waters of employee speech and workplace policies. And with Twitter, Facebook, blogging participation increasing every day, it’s only a matter of time until another case presents itself.
As companies struggle to understand what is allowed or enforceable by law or what infringes on labor rights, they will also continue to work on developing workplace guidelines. And from my discussions with many organizations, there are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered. Here are some excellent ones presented by our fellow HR blogger, Gautam Ghosh:
- If I am not in Marketing and Sales, but I come across a tweet/facebook posting/Blog which either praises my organization/product or disses it – how do I respond? Should I respond?
- Someone on my friend’s list is looking for a product. I think we could build our existing product to what he wishes for. Should I connect him with someone in the R&D team?
- How do people within the company connect and collaborate with each other to solve customer issues? How do they acknowledge the issue, and respond to the person externally to share what’s being done.
- Within the organization when someone is working on an issue how do co-workers know about it – and add their perspectives?
- Is there a way for point 4 to be expanded so that customers externally who have ideas are also able to contribute?
Throughout the coming weeks, The Social Workplace will be exploring these questions and this topic in great depth. Hopefully, what we find will provide some clarity regarding this topic. If you have any additional scenarios or questions that you want us to research, feel free to contribute them here or to the Quora, where we have posed the question of “What HR, legal or corporate culture challenges still exist when companies develop social media guidelines for employees?“
Also, if you are an employment or labor attorney and have insight into this topic, feel free to contact us.
- Another firing over Facebook comments: Lawsuit pending, Techrepublic
- AMR Settles Dawnmarie Souza’s Wrongful Termination Lawsuit, Philadelphia Employment News