Email long ago changed the way we keep in touch with friends and family. But within the last few years, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have changed how we do business, market our companies and distribute our products.
A company should not dismiss the importance of this issue merely because it has a written policy governing "personal use" of its computers. Often, employees damage the reputation of their company during "off hours," using their own personal computers. This begs the question, "What are my rights to control what my employees do on the Internet during off hours on their own computers?"
Monitoring of employee Internet use is skyrocketing, but not many employers monitor social networks. About 65 percent of employers said they watched workers' Internet use, according to a 2009 Deloitte LLP survey. But only 10 percent monitor social networks.
A shortlist of considerations for monitoring employees' online activity include:
* Prevent damage to the company's reputation
* Monitor for breaches of restricted covenants and disclosure of confidential information
* Prevent improper "friending," and recommendations
* Monitor job applicants' blogs, profiles, and posts
The legal implications of work-related social networking have yet to be determined. But one issue is already hotly litigated: whether employee "posts" on social networks are protected by the First Amendment. In short: can an employee be legally fired for Facebook posts?
Generally, speech of public employees is protected by the First Amendment, and they cannot be terminated for Facebook posts. There are also some more "legally minded" considerations, such as if the employee is addressing a matter of public concern, and whether the employee's interests outweigh a specific government's interests.
Based on case law from throughout the United States, litigated employee terminations are often based on social networking posts that are considered to be personal attacks on individuals and not the kind of speech protected by the First Amendment.
Courts have held the following actions grounds for termination:
* A MySpace group for employees to vent about their workplace.
* A firefighter's MySpace posts of unauthorized fire department photographs and his own modeling photographs. …