How Off the Clock Use of Social Media Can Still Impact Your Workplace

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By Eric B. Meyer

Last month I was speaking about social media and the workplace to a fabulous audience at the 2014 SHRM Annual Conference and Expo in Orlando. (Email me if you want a copy of my slide deck).

One of my session themes was that there is no such thing as employees using social media “off the clock.” That is, even if an individual tweets or updates her Facebook status outside of the four walls of the workplace, that communication can still impact the workplace.

Dan Davis at IBM’s Social Business Insights blog recently wrote about this, and another Twitter user described it as the “24/7 social media conundrum” Two recent incidents described below bear this out.

Waitress gripes about poor tipper/friend on Facebook

First comes this report of a waitress at the Texas Roadhouse, who, on her own personal time, took to Facebook to complain about customer tips. For this outburst, she was fired.

The article, which is framed in terms of the employee’s supposed “First Amendment Rights,” cites criticism of the restaurant for taking action against the waitress, ostensibly because she should have the right to complain (or not complain) freely about her working conditions.

However, before you go all sympathetic on me, I should mention that it’s not as if the employer were twisting it’s proverbial handlebar mustache as it monitored social media for workplace gripes from employees.

No, in this case, the waitress stupidly complained on Facebook about a tip from an “a**hole” customer … who happened to be one of her Facebook friends! The Facebook friend showed the post to the restaurant manager, which in turn, led to the waitress’ termination.

Folks, this is no different than if the waitress had called the customer an a**hole — to her face. Actually, it is, because not only did the waitress embarrass her Facebook friend, a customer of the restaurant, but she did so publicly.

That’s a terminable offense. Period.

Fired from the Opie and Anthony Show

As a big Howard Stern fan — Bababooey! — I can’t say that I’m too broken up over the news from last week that SiriusXM satellite radio fired Anthony Cumia, of the Opie and Anthony Show following a vulgar, violent, racist, sexist Twitter tirade.

(Gawker has a NSFW — not safe for work — recap here).

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Yes, Mr. Cumia spewed on his own time. However, what was clearly not schtick, went very viral and became very public. So, SiriusXM decided that the was not the type of person it wanted to continue to employ.

Do employees have the right to complain about work, either offline or online? In many circumstances, they do.

But, would you tolerate the type of behavior described in the examples above? If your response is something along the lines of “what employees do on their own time is not my concern,” then, it’s time to step into the 21st century, because online communication is permanent, viral, and does not respect the brick and mortar you use to insulate your employees from the outside world.

Why off-the-clock rants can be a workplace problem

Would you stick with a “what employees do on their own time...” line if one of your employees is offended by a Cumia-style rant read on one of your computers in your workplace?

And what if that rant was specifically intended for a co-worker? When one of your employees composes a racist tweet or a sexually harassing Facebook post aimed at a co-worker, and the “victim” complains to HR, it does not matter that the speech was off-the-clock.

If the victim feels victimized at work, it’s a workplace problem. So, treat it accordingly.

Otherwise, don’t lose my number when the lawsuit gets filed.

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 (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), 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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1 Comment on “How Off the Clock Use of Social Media Can Still Impact Your Workplace

  1. I found Eric Meyer’s SHRM session to be very informative. Lots of good information to share with my Talent Management team. I highly recommend viewing his session presentation. Great tips for companies with a growing social media presence.

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