Professional athletes have never been shy about posting their thoughts on social media. Over the last couple of months we’ve seen a top NFL player and even an active coach, bring new light on its impact.
As you may have seen, Antonio Brown took to social media to allegedly “force” his way out of Oakland and find a new employer. Along the way, he made negative comments and shared documents sent to him by the Raiders.
In a recent interview, former Texas Tech and current Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury, explained that he and his University coaching staff would create fake social media accounts to keep “tabs” on their players. He explained that they would “look for anything that might hurt the University, the football program or the players themselves.”
The same issues could arise with most any company in the U.S. who has their own employees. So, what can an employer do to avoid this, or deal with it, should it rear its ugly head?
The Legal Repercussions
When you distill it all down, to its most basic elements – there simply is no law that states the profile you create for social media must be real – or, that an employee cannot post a negative comment.
So, keeping “tabs” on an employee in this way – is not the issue. Not legally, anyway. The real issue comes into play when you learn that an employee is posting negative commentary.
A common question for us here at HRWS is “can an employee be disciplined for posting negative comments on a social media site?”
An employer may discipline an employee for posting negative comments on a social networking site if the employee’s comments are harassing, offensive or inappropriate, and not related to employment issues.
However, if the posts could be interpreted as engaging in protected concerted activity with coworkers and are related to employee working conditions, an employer risks violating the National Labor Relations Act.
On the other hand, if the negative comments involve an individual grievance, with no attempt to enlist other employees in a joint action or discuss wages and working conditions, disciplining the employee for the negative posting is appropriate. Some states, however, have laws prohibiting employers from terminating an employee for off-duty activities, which would include activities on social networking sites, absent of showing that the activity caused actual harm to the employer.
As you can see, in the HR world – whenever faced with a situation, typically there are some legal precedents that come along with it.
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Be advised that the information contained in this article is intended for educational purposes and to provide a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice.