Social Media is Outpacing the Legal System
Courts have not caught up to the realities of social media and its role in workforce issues. As an employment lawyer, representing both employees and employers, I know that social media policies need to relate to the industry in question. In the case of the airline industry, especially in the case of flight attendants, social media is the prevalent way that thousands of airline employees communicate with each other because they often have shifting work assignments and rarely work with the same people or at the same location on a regular basis. Therefore, they rely on social media to exchange ideas, comment and or complain about their industry or unions, and discuss the nature of their work.
Some points to consider about social media in the workplace are:
- Courts have generally not considered social media posts and online bullying have a severe impact in the real world. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” no longer applies in the world of social media which is public and enduring. Social media posts are a different form of harassment than is face-to-face harassment.
- Courts have not penalized employers whom have refused to investigate claims of violations of their social media policies, and have distinguished the failure of employers to follow their own policies from actionable harassment.
- Employers are often quick to discipline or terminate employees who they determine have embarrassed or damaged them, yet they are slow or refuse to enforce social media policies to protect employees from insults or abuse on social media from other employees or managers.
- Much like other policies that employers have “on the books,” such as sexual harassment policies, social media policies are often not enforced by employers. It is up to the employee to take proactive action, hopefully after consulting an experienced attorney, to require employers to enforce and apply these policies.
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