“Social media law” is all the rage these days, and it’s not hard to see why: employers across the country are desperate to use social media to promote their brands or to rid themselves of undesirable employees, as the case may be. 2012 was the first year that really produced anything like a solid body of law to be analyzed as the first wave of social media lawsuits produced court opinions and a handful of legislatures began to address the issue.
A recap is in order. I don’t profess to be an expert on social media law — Google tells me there are over 194 million “social media lawyer” pages, though most everything you could need would be on MoFo’s Socially Aware, or Eric Goldman’s blog, or Bradley Shear’s blog — but the big trends aren’t hard to spot. Three of those trends jumped out at me:
First, the National Labor Relations Board issued several memoranda last year noting that both union and non-union workers had a right to discuss working conditions without fear of retaliation, including on social media websites, a policy the NLRB has already enforced to restore the jobs of workers fired for negative remarks about their employer on Facebook and Twitter. (Then came the judicial atrocity of Canning v. NLRB, which has thrown into doubt everything the NLRB has done since January 2012, so who knows what the eventual fate of those policies will be.)
Second, a couple of state legislatures have stepped in to stop the odious practice of employers demanding the usernames and passwords of potential employees, to snoop for embarrassing information. Eric Goldman and Venkat Balasubramani have raised concerns about these laws (Eric here, Venkat here), not (I hope) because they think employers should be snooping around their employee’s private lives, but primarily on the grounds that the law can create problems where employees end up using their social media accounts for “mixed” personal and business purposes. More on that in a moment.
Third, several lawsuits involving Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts that were either — depending on which side you credit — personal accounts hijacked by the employer after the employee was left, or business accounts stolen by the employee after the employee left, produced court opinions. Venkat’s post above links to his various discussions of each, but for the moment there aren’t really any clear rules of law other than, in essence, everybody (employers and employees) should pay attention to their employment policies and should figure this issue out in advance.
The “mixed” personal and business social media accounts are what prompted this post.
Continue Reading When An Employer’s Social Media “Encouragement” Becomes An Overtime Wage Violation