Where does the line get drawn when it comes to social media and technology usage and the relationship between the employee and employer? Best practice has always been for a company to have an Information Systems & Technology policy in their employee handbook that states “information systems are not private and the company has the right to view emails, internet and phone records, etc.” But with so much of our communication reliant on electronic communications, such as email, text and social media outlets such as twitter and Facebook, is it still practical to think that the employer can view all these records? And, if they do, what are they able to do with the information? Let’s face it, many employees spend most of their day at work and need to reach the outside world during working hours, but use the same cell phone and laptop for both personal and business usage. How should the line be drawn over what employee can use their device for, what can be said in reference to the company, and what can the employer view?
The jury, literally, is still out on much of this. There are, however, a number of cases that are beginning to set precedent. One such case is City of Ontario v. Quon which found that the City of Ontario was justified in its search of text messages on a city supplied two-way pager. The ruling stated that “When conducted for a non-investigatory, work-related purpose or for the investigation of work-related misconduct, a government employer’s warrantless search is reasonable if it is justifiable at its inception and if the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the circumstances giving rise to the search.” Based on this ruling, it would seem that in most cases, the company can search company supplied systems for non work related conversations or abuse.
In a second case, The National Labor Relations Board settled with American Medical Response (AMR) over the alleged firing of an employee as a result of her negative comments about her supervisor on Facebook. The ruling stated that AMR must more specifically outline their technology policies and not restrict employees from discussing their wages, hours and working conditions while not at work. Although this ruling allows employees to reference work related issues in social media outlets, there are likely going to be continued terminations over company, supervisor and job references in the social media and continued legal challenges.
Being specific about expectations around social media and the use of company information and technology systems will help to eliminate some of the questions but, stay tuned, as this is an HR policy that will continue to receive attention in the future.