Are Managers Gun-Shy About Disciplining Reckless Online Behavior?

By Eric B. Meyer

Earlier this year, I wrote an article, “Yes, you CAN discipline employees who abuse social media.”

I stick by my words.

And, here’s a story about another teacher suspended for an inappropriate Facebook post, and why employers CAN and SHOULD discipline employees who abuse social media.

Employees don’t have carte blanche

The (Bergen, N.J.) Record’s Zach Patberg reports that School 21 in Paterson, N.J. has suspended a teacher, with pay, for allegedly commenting on Facebook that she felt like a “warden” overseeing “future criminals,” according to a district official.

Did I mention that the suspended instructor teaches first graders? Classy.

The school board president had this to say about the suspension:

The reason why she was suspended was because the incident created serious problems at the school that impeded the functioning of the building,” said Best, who along with the other board members were informed of the incident at an emergency executive session Thursday. “You can’t simply fire someone for what they have on a Facebook page; but if that spills over and affects the classroom then you can take action.”

It’s ok to discipline employees who misbehave online

Yesterday, Jon Hyman at the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, had a sobering post entitled: “What does Chicken Little teach us about social media policies?” In his post, Jon laments about how HR professionals who attended a recent session he taught on social media and employment law were becoming gun-shy about disciplining employees who engage in reckless behavior online that affects the business:

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Almost to a fault, a room of informed and knowledgeable business people entered the session with the notion that the NLRB had banned companies from implementing social media policies that restrict or limit employees’ speech about their employers. I did what I could to dispel that notion. Until the Supreme Court tells me otherwise, I will not be convinced that a business cannot fire an employee who trashes its reputation, or the reputations of its management personnel, online.”

Jon is right that there is no law forbidding social media policies. He is also right that employers need to take a step back and get some perspective.

Even without a social media policy, if an employee engages in behavior online that would otherwise require discipline had that same behavior taken place in the office (e.g., discrimination, sexual harassment, defamation), there is no reason of which I am aware that the employer can’t take appropriate action. In fact, if an employer is aware that one employee is harassing another online and does nothing about, the business may expose itself to potential liability.

Folks, the sky isn’t falling. Until it does, maintain perspective.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (, which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.


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