LIVINGSTON, NJ – On Wednesday, Sept. 18, Sobel & Co., a Livingston-based Accounting and Consulting Firm hosted an Executive Women’s Breakfast for professionals and entrepreneurs, in which a panel of speakers, comprising employment law professionals: Alix R. Rubin, Esq., Lisa Fried-Grodin, Esq., and Emily Kaller, Esq., discussed "Social Media Chatter at Work: Dos and Don'ts."
Sobel & Co. hosts these events six times a year at the Eisenhower Corporate Campus, in which more than 150 professionals network and listen to inspirational speakers. In lieu of a fee, attendees brought personal grooming items for donation to Holiday Express to help them achieve their mission of delivering food, gifts, financial support and friendship to those with the greatest need for the gift of human kindness throughout the entire year.
Facebook Password Law
The panel began by explaining that Gov. Christie recently signed the Facebook Password Bill into a law that bars employers from requiring current or prospective employees to turn over their login information for social networking websites as a condition of employment. It is effective in December.
Fried-Grodin asked, “How many of you have a Facebook, Twitter or You Tube account?”
Almost everyone in the audience raised their hands.
Fried-Grodin then asked, “How many of you would be comfortable having your employer see it?”
Most guests raised their hands.
Fried-Grodin explained that the new law not only protects employees, but it protects employers as well.
In today’s age, social media sites have privacy controls such as the ones on Facebook where users can choose who sees what posts. Many people choose to keep posts private and only viewable by “friends.” This means that when employers check prospective employee’s social media channels, they cannot see all that is posted. Some employers ask prospects for their passwords in order to view the pages in their entireties, and often took what they saw into consideration when making hiring choices. The new law will prohibit that from happening. It will prevent employers from taking adverse actions against existing employees who do not share their passwords.
Rubin said, “For those of you who are employers in a supervisory role, I always advise clients not to ask for passwords because they don’t want to delve into employee’s stuff if it doesn’t affect work.”
“One thing the law does not do is make it safe for you to say ‘anything’ and not get fired,” said Fried-Grodin.
Rubin said, “Nor does the law make it necessarily acceptable for employers to fire employees regarding things they have posted about the company. The internet is affecting the business place in many ways, and those ways are ever-changing. It is important for employers to have guidelines in place that change as the laws change.”
Rubin added, “The law does however make it acceptable for a company to find something out via other means. If an employee is violating a company policy by making discriminating comments or alleged misconduct, then the employer can request access to a social media page.”
“Often this happens when a Facebook ‘friend’ of an employee sees something posted and forwards it to a manager,” she added.
“If the company receives the information and didn’t ask for it, that is acceptable,” said Rubin.
“It is not OK for a supervisor to pretend to be someone else to connect, or to pressure an employee to connect,” she added. “Often people are friends in and out of work. You need to have policies about supervisors friending subordinates. The law is actually helping employers avoid lawsuits for invading privacy and learning information that an employee could possibly use in a lawsuit.”
The example she gave was, “If a company learns that an employee is homosexual via his/her page, and the employee is later fired for work-related reasons. The employee can claim discrimination and the employer cannot say it didn’t know.”’
Dating in the Workplace and Technology
Dating was the next topic of discussion.
Fried-Grodin said, “Relationships are now going from the workplace to outside with technology, making it much easier to connect. Younger people who grew up communicating electronically in middle school don’t necessarily have the same understandings of rules, language and boundaries that those of us who didn’t grow up that way do.”
“Even if they start texting from outside of work, once those texts come inside, on company time, especially if they are done using company property, they are property for the employer,” she said.
Fried-Grodin said, “For example, if a male employee texts a female that he wants to go out and the female ignores him, but the male continues to ask, hassle or get physical, and the employer becomes aware of it, those texts have moved from innocent outside texts to potential grounds for sexual harassment. The company could then be liable if they don't address the conduct, especially if they were done using an employer’s device.”
“The texts can however work both ways,” she added. “Things can seem one way then swerve. Maybe she didn’t say, ‘No,’ at first. Maybe they were regularly talking and then she changed her mind. He can then show his texts showing she came over and then it becomes a credibility issue.”
Posting About Current Events
Next, Rubin spoke on damaging information online and what an employer can control. She said that employees cannot be disciplined for requesting compensation, better work conditions or for telling an employee to get a lawyer or to contact the union.
She also said that non-supervisory employees can gather together and ‘gripe,’ by discussing pay, conditions, etc.
The panelists said, “It is important to have policies to show what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to post.”
The panel also said that employees who work for private employers should be worried about what they post regarding current events because unlike government workers, the right to free speech doesn't prevent their employers from taking action against them for their online posts.
The example used was of a female who had applied for a position at a coffee shop. She had not been hired, but tweeted something negative about Trevon Martin, a popular case in which the 17-year-old was gunned down in Sanford, Florida in February by George Zimmerman. The tweet seemed to be coming from an employee of the coffee shop and it went viral hurting the company’s reputation. She was not subsequently hired and the company said they were not associated with her.
The next topic was about personal Blogs.
The panel explained that even if a person uses a pen name, it is hard for an employee to say it is a private Blog. They gave an example of a woman who wrote a Blog on her personal sex life and gave advice. They said she worked for a non-profit, which fired her when they found out about it. The company said that her comments could be seen to reflect on the company. The panel said that the Blogger had no right to an expectation of privacy.
Fried-Grodin said that the bottom line was, “Always be mindful before you post.”
Rubin said, “A company should have a policy for everything including personal Blogs.”
The next topic discussed was about who owns contacts—the employee who made them or the employer.
Rubin explained that the answer was determined by the language of the non-compete, or non-solicitation rules. She said that basically the contacts made before employment were the property of the employee, but that those made on the job were those of the employer. She did say, however, that this was dependent of whether the employer made it a requirement to divulge personal contacts for marketing purposes. And, while the employee might have to ‘disconnect,” they might be able to keep the contact information if they didn’t use it.
LinkedIn endorsements became the next topic of discussion.
Fried-Grodin told the audience to be careful when they were clicking away endorsing people and to be mindful of what a company determines acceptable for written recommendations. “Some employers only allow employees to write the dates someone worked at the company, and not a whole paragraph,” she said.
Fried-Grodin explained that if a supervisor writes a glowing recommendation for one employee, and then later has to cut the lowest performer, which turns out to be the same person, “you can be sure that the employee will use that information in a lawsuit.”
She also said that supervisors should not feel coerced to recommend someone.
Employees: Be mindful of what you post.
Employers: Have fluid policies in place that are updated as laws change and reviewed by attorneys.
About Sobel and Co.
Sobel Partner and Chief Growth Strategist, Sally Glick, and Marketing Manager, Colleen Logan, have been organizing events like this for the past several years. Breakfasts are attended by a diverse group of business woman that are involved in a plethora of industries. From Attorneys to Corporate Art Consultants and everything in between, these ladies are afforded an opportunity to network and to be enriched by one another’s expertise.
Sobel & Co.’s next Executive Women’s Breakfast will be held on November 12, at the Eisenhower Corporate Campus.
For more information on Sobel events contact Sally Glick at (973) 994-9494.
Click here to see a TAP Livingston Facebook album from the event.