Former baseball pitcher and World Series Champion Curt Schilling took to Twitter to congratulate his daughter on her acceptance to college in Rhode Island, where she will follow in his footsteps as a pitcher. Since Schilling is a controversial figure and social media an open forum, comments ridiculing Schilling were sure to follow. One commenter, however, lost his job over his Twitter responses to Schilling.
Most employers tread carefully in disciplining their employees over social media posts for fear of violating the National Labor Relations Act or state legal off-duty conduct laws. But when an employee’s social media post violates an employer’s Equal Employment Opportunity (anti-harassment/discrimination) policy or conflicts with a legitimate business interest, the employer has more discretion in its response. In the story above, a commenter posted vulgar tweets about Schilling’s underage daughter. His employer, the New York Yankees, immediately terminated his employment, as they “have zero tolerance for anything like this.” This should remind employees that sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate social media ramblings can have serious consequences.
Employers do not have to tolerate an employee’s public posts that are sexually offensive or discriminatory in nature. In fact, social media posts can be the basis for a harassment or discrimination claim, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has explained. Nevertheless, employers should not require access or passwords to employees’ or applicants’ social media accounts nor attempt to ban all social media use among its workforce. The National Labor Relations Board still maintains an active watch over employers’ approach to handling social media. Having a narrowly tailored social media policy is paramount, and properly evaluating your response to an employee’s post is a must.