In June, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Center (LVEDC) in Pennsylvania fired a social media “specialist” after she posted the following Tweet: “We start summer hours today. That means most of the staff leave at noon, many to hit the links. Do you observe summer hours? What do you do?” It seems that the specialist was using social media correctly to try to engage followers in a conversation. On the other hand, the tweet led some followers to question if Friday golf was appropriate for an organization funded at least partially by tax dollars.
The details of the employee’s work history have not been made public, making it impossible to evaluate fully the propriety of the firing. We can, however, draw a few conclusions from this incident.
Even social media “specialists” can make mistakes. Perhaps this tweet would not have led to employment termination if the specialist had just omitted the reference to golf. Did LVEDC have any system of checks and balances or could the employee post what she wanted because she was a “specialist”?
Training is an ongoing process. As an attorney practicing in the space, I go to great lengths to explain to clients that a policy is not sufficient. Training is a requisite companion for the policy. The training should use real life examples of tweets like this or Facebook posts that have resulted in conflict with employers.
Confidentiality and privacy are dynamic concepts. Many of the “social media specialists” are young (20′s,early 30′s) and have different interpretations of privacy from older employees. Companies need to train their employees about their expectations. At the same time, as case law emerges in this area, we will see if young law clerks have sway over the judges for whom they research and write opinions. As court cases create meaningful precedents, readers should watch for subtle shifts in societal norms to see if they permeate the decisions.
Consider the PR fallout from firing. This incident created a lot of buzz on the Internet. LVEDC received some bad press. Companies must balance their legal rights with the impact of enforcement on their reputations.
© Kyle-Beth Hilfer, P.C. 2011. Kyle-Beth Hilfer, Esq. specializes in advertising, marketing, promotions, intellectual property and new media law. She is also Of Counsel to Collen IP. For more information about her law practice, please visit www.kbhilferlaw.com.
If you’re interested in crafting a social media policy or learning how to best protect your organization consider attending the Social Media Legal Risks and Strategies Summit in San Francisco this October 4-6