What To Do About Employees’ #StupidTweets

April 1, 2015 – In The News

Christina Stoneburner was quoted in the SHRM article "What To Do About Employees’ #StupidTweets." While the full text can be found in the April 1, 2015, issue of SHRM, a synopsis is noted below.

While discharging an employee for a stupid tweet isn’t unheard of, it isn’t always a straightforward process. For example, criticizing your boss may not be the wisest of moves, but if the tweet is worded a certain way, it could be protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

So what’s an employer’s next move after becoming aware of an employee’s inappropriate tweet?

According to Christina Stoneburner, when determining whether to discipline an employee for a tweet, employers can consider several factors, including does the tweet disclose trade secrets or proprietary information, reference illegal activity, threaten physical violence against an employee of the company or contain racist or sexist language?

“If the answer to any of these is ‘yes,’ then an employer can discipline the employee for the tweet,” she said.

But before disciplining employees, employers should be sure to conduct a thorough investigation.

“Employers should verify the content of the tweet rather than relying on a report from another person,” Stoneburner said. “Employers should also print out a copy of the tweet in case the person who posted it deletes it.

“If there is some doubt as to whether the employee is the person who posted the tweet or some ambiguity in the tweet that needs to be explained, then the employer should interview the person who posted it,” she said. “In other cases, where there is no doubt the employee posted the tweet, then there may not be a need to interview the employee before proceeding with discipline.”

Certain tweets, depending on the subject or audience, may even be protected under the NLRA because they constitute protected concerted activity.

Protected concerted activity can be any discussion of terms of employment, Stoneburner said. “A tweet that says that the employee’s boss is an idiot, unqualified and does not pay overtime when due would certainly be a tweet that may upset the supervisor and the employer, but may also be concerted activity because of the reference to overtime,” she said.

“Of course, if the tweet is patently offensive, then that language may take it outside of the protection of the NLRA,” Stoneburner added.

A portion of this article also appeared in the April 1, 2015, issue of SHRM.