Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Employment Law and Social Networking Sights

Suggested reading for employers and employees alike from The Washington Post: When Young Teachers Go Wild on the Web.

Part of me wants to say that college educated, licensed people like teachers ought to know better. So having written that, let me go on to observe that some do not know better.

Let us be clear that teachers being employed by government agencies have different obligations to their employer than do private employees. Indiana allows for the firing of most employees for any reason whatsoever as Indiana is an employment-at-will state. Teachers fit into a different category. Which means those without employment contracts could be fired for the activities described in the WAPO article.

Employers need to consider whether they want to monitor Facebook and MySpace for pages of their employees. Employers could do something described in the article:

Local school officials said they don't necessarily scrutinize Facebook when they conduct background checks on teachers. But in some parts of the country, they do.

"I know for a fact that when a superintendent in Missouri was interviewing potential teachers last year, he would ask, 'Do you have a Facebook or MySpace page?' " said Todd Fuller, a spokesman for the Missouri State Teachers Association, which is warning members to clean up their pages. "If the candidate said yes, then the superintendent would say, 'I've got my computer up right now. Let's take a look.' "

Public employees need to consider this:

If teachers claim free speech protection under the First Amendment, Simpson said, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that governments can fire employees if their speech harmed the workplace's mission and function.

Prudence and discretion are not necessarily bad things. When I was much younger, I remember hearing something along the lines of this: do not do anything you would mind seeing on the front page of the newspaper. The Internet allows all of us to create our own modern version of the newspaper front page.

In the following is some good advice for all potential employees:

In an interview, Melton said: "Is my Facebook profile open? I definitely thought I closed [the page] to people. . . . " Access to her page was later restricted, effectively withdrawing it from public view.

Employers, you have a lot more to think about concerning work policies. About all I can offer is that you make a decision on whether or not to that you care about what your employees do on Facebook and its competitors. If you decide other than to ignore employee pages on social networking sites, then put it into writing and stick to it.