In the recent UK case of Smith v. Trafford, the Claimant was awarded just £98 (approx. $150) by the English High Court for a successful breach of contract claim against his housing trust employer (the “Trust”). The Claimant, Mr. Smith, had posted two comments on his Facebook wall expressing his views on gay marriage. One comment stated “equality too far” and the other comment elaborated on his reasons for opposing gay marriage. In the Trust’s view, Mr. Smith’s comments amounted to a serious breach of its Code of Conduct and Equal Opportunities Policy. He had a significant number of colleagues as his Facebook friends and the Trust was concerned that his personal views would be interpreted as its own. Consequently, the Trust found Mr. Smith guilty of gross misconduct but rather than dismissing him, demoted Mr. Smith to a non-managerial position with a resulting 40 percent reduction in his pay. READ MORE
In its first ruling on an employer’s social media policy, the National Labor Relations Board found that Costco Wholesale Corporation’s social media policy in its employee handbook violated the National Labor Relations Act. Among the policy provisions reviewed, the Board analyzed Costco’s policy prohibiting employees from posting electronically statements that damage the company or any person’s reputation.
In its September 7, 2012 opinion, the Board stated that the “appropriate inquiry” is whether the policy would “reasonably tend to chill employees in their exercise of their Section 7 rights[,]” which provides employees with the right to engage in concerted activity. While the Board acknowledged that Costco’s policy did not explicitly reference Section 7 activity, the Board did find that the policy’s broad prohibition on statements “clearly encompasses concerted communications protesting [Costco’s] treatment of its employees.” The Board specifically noted that there was nothing in Costco’s policy that even suggested the exclusion of protected communications. Accordingly, the Board concluded that Costco’s policy had a reasonable tendency to inhibit employees’ protected activity and thus violated the National Labor Relations Act.
Following a growing trend among states, Ohio recently introduced legislation to bar employers from requiring current or prospective employees to provide access to their private social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter. Although to date Maryland is the only state with a law on the books prohibiting employers from requiring or requesting access to a current or prospective employee’s private social media accounts (Maryland’s law does not go into effect until October 1, 2012), approximately a dozen other states are considering similar legislation, including California, Delaware, Illinois and New York. Click here for a list of the state bills. READ MORE
Employees cannot be criminally prosecuted by the federal government for breach of an employer’s computer policies, according to the Ninth Circuit’s April 10, 2012 en banc opinion in U.S. v. Nosal. The 9-2 en banc panel (with a strongly worded dissent) opted to narrowly construe the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) to avoid creating a world in which employees could be held criminally liable for “workplace dalliances” like accessing social media sites which may be in violation of a company policy that work computers may be used for business purposes only. The opinion reversed the Ninth Circuit’s earlier April 28, 2011 panel decision and further deepened a split among circuits on this issue. READ MORE