It doesn’t matter how routine the act of teeth brushing should be, parents are still forced to ask their children the same question every night.
As firm administrator, it may be uncomfortable to continually remind office employees to refrain from certain ill-begotten behaviors, but, according to recent legal developments, repetitive advice on social media policies and privacy is still necessary.
“Do you have any posts on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace, for example, that could serve as incriminating evidence?”
Once again, attorneys should remember to warn their clients that privacy settings do not necessarily reflect privacy law.
For example, personal Injury suits are especially vulnerable to invasive discovery requests for social media information.
In Romano v. Steelcase, Inc., the court granted the defendant’s request for full access to the plaintiff’s “current and historical Facebook and MySpace pages and accounts, including all deleted pages and related information.” The defense aimed to use photographs, wall posts, and other pages to prove the defendant lived a happy, active lifestyle despite her injuries and her claims.
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog and The Daily Business Review pointed out that, in April, Facebook and MySpace account information was used to deny a divorcee alimony payments after she claimed a car accident physically prevented her from working (online photos and posts proved this was, in fact, not true).
Firm employees should be equally cognizant that personal blog sites and online networking mediums can make up—in legal disputes—a discoverable, public profile.
Just this year a court case was settled between a Connecticut ambulance company, and The National Labor Relations Board and Dawnmarie Souza, who was fired for making derogatory remarks about her employer on Facebook.
The financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed. However, surprisingly, the ambulance company voluntarily revised its Internet use policies regarding blogging and social media to make them more lenient. The company now has an Internet policy that permits its employees to make candid remarks and even disparaging ones about their work.
Law firms, of all places, should respect the privacy and first amendment rights of its employees.
Nevertheless, there are ways your firm can try to hire tactful and, say, more non-controversial associates. But, to do this, firms must focus investigations on the social media postings and online public profiles of its employees during the interview process, instead of first-year performance reviews.
Once associates are hired, it’s difficult (and illegal) to deny them their first amendment rights. So, implement a social media policy that clearly explains your expectations for digitally public, post-work discussions.
Finally, survey your employees—get feedback. If your employees feel they have no secure medium at the firm for constructive criticism, they will certainly seek an outlet elsewhere, likely a more public and litigious one.
From your Twitter feed, it’s evident you’ve brushed your teeth. Now, how bright, shiny, and sensitive is your new social media policy?
For more information, attend C4CM’s course, “Social Media Policy Dos and Don’ts: Employees, Networking Sites and the Law.”