Impacts That Social Media can have on an Employee’s Legal Rights

Impacts That Social Media can have on an Employee’s Legal Rights

Social media can be a robust tool for business, but it can sometimes have legal grey areas for the individuals who use them. Some of these can even impact the right to employment. Even just one social networking profile can have an impact on the employee-employer dynamic.

Applicant Screening with Social Media

In numerous states, the lawful activities that an applicant or employee chooses to take during their personal time off are protected under “off-duty laws”. However, a survey taken in 2016 found that 60% of hiring managers have regularly participated in possibly illegal social media screening.

Individuals who are in charge of the hiring process should be sure that they understand the legal guidelines for applicant screening and are in compliance with all regulations. Professionals must be cautious when posting in order to cater to either a professional or a personal audience.

Freedom of Speech Online About the Business

Employees are entitled to free speech, and can’t be fired for exercising their legal rights, or federal law is likely violated. The majority of employees are hired in America “at will”, which means that they can be fired anytime. However, there are a few restrictions that employers have when firing an employee; for example, Title VII states that an employee can’t be fired due to gender or race.

The National Labor Relations Act states that employees are permitted to take part in “concerted activities” for “mutual aid and protection”, which means that staff members are legally permitted to gather to discuss disputes with the conditions and terms of their employment, even if that conversation occurs online. It is illegal to fire someone only because of this type of conversation.

Furthermore, employee handbooks that ban social media discussion probably also infringe on the NLRA, since it protects employee speech. Businesses need to carefully deliberate before they give verbal instructions or implement company policies that aim to control social media use. An attorney can review business social media policies or discussion topics to ensure that the company is abiding by pertinent labor laws.

Social Media Accounts as Legally Owned Business Assets

In certain situations, an employer can declare that they own the rights to a staff member’s social media profile and followers. If a social media profile is utilized to attract customers, changing the profile to attract a new business can be considered illegal interference with the relationships of the former business. This situation occurred in the case of PhoneDog v. Kravitz, where a Twitter account had just 17,000 followers but was deemed a business asset.

It’s important for both employees and employers to ensure that it is clear whom exactly the social media account in question belongs to. Employees may even be safer by stating explicitly whether the page is for business or personal use. If a social media page is promoting a certain business in particular and has thousands of fans, it is probably considered a legal business asset.