Employee social media use continues to be an area fraught with risk for employers. In the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri protests, this issue was raised yet again. In this case, an office manager for Norton Healthcare posted an inflammatory and racist post on her Facebook page in response to the Ferguson protests. The post was viewed by a Louisville man, who then took a screenshot of the status update and posted the screenshot along with his own message condemning the woman’s post. His post identified her as an employee of Norton Healthcare, and implied that other employees of Norton Healthcare share the same racist opinion and would not provide care to African American patients. It was then re-posted and shared hundreds of times on the social network.
In response, Norton Healthcare initially stated that it was investigating the matter and that the employee’s views were not representative of the values, standards, or operating principles of the company. Norton Healthcare’s social media policy requires that if an employee elects to identify him or herself as employed by Norton Healthcare or if the connection is apparent, the employee must state that the views expressed online are the employee’s own and not the views of the company.
Her Facebook page was taken down, and several days later she was terminated from Norton Healthcare. The company’s chief communications officer released a statement emphasizing that the woman’s post did not express the views of Norton Healthcare: “We want to be clear and direct in our response,” he wrote. “The sentiments expressed in that posting are in no way reflective of Norton Healthcare values or practices. We have been providing medical care for those in need in the Louisville community for 128 years. When a patient comes through our doors, all we see is someone in need of our help.” For more information on this story, click here.
The takeaway for employers is that every company must have a social media policy in place. Postings on social media can be the basis for a harassment claim and, like in the case of Norton Healthcare, information posted publicly can be the basis for discipline. Whether an employer can regulate what an employee posts online if the posting is made while off-duty depends on several factors. There must be some connection between the off-duty conduct and the impact on the employer. Clearly, that existed in this case, as the employee’s post and the response to her racist opinion implicated Norton Healthcare. Employers also should consider where the information is posted, the content of the information, and the type of business in which the employer engages. As always, employers regulating employee social media use must also be cognizant of the National Labor Relations Board and its interest in workplace social media issues.
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