By Christine Wilkinson
At this point, the reality that employers can terminate employees for posting negative comments about their bosses on Facebook is not new.? But the dust certainly has not yet settled in this hotly contested legal area. A recent case provides a novel twist… What happens when a supervisor posts comments to the subordinate?s Facebook page about the subordinate?s abuse of leave policies?
In Rodriguez v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 3:11-2129-B (N.D. Tex. Jan. 9, 2013), Plaintiff Virginia Rodriguez was a supervisor at Sam?s Club on a performance-improvement plan. The plan stated that any subsequent violation would result in her termination.? Nine months later, Plaintiff viewed photographs of subordinate employees attending a July 4th holiday party. The employees had called in sick to work in order to attend the party. ?Plaintiff, rather than waiting for the employee to come in to work to address the apparent lies, posted information on the subordinate?s Facebook page, publicly chastising the subordinate by name for falsifying reasons for the work absence. The employee complained to HR, which conducted an investigation. The employer — ?Sam?s Club — terminated?the supervisor.
According to Sam?s Club, the supervisor was terminated because she violated the company?s social media policy.? The policy admonishes supervisors to avoid posting complaints or criticisms of employees on social media that are unprofessional, insulting, or embarrassing and requires supervisors to instead discuss performance issues with employees or subordinates directly.? ?Plaintiff sued, alleging age and national origin discrimination, and retaliation. The Court granted summary judgment to Sam?s Club, because the employer was able to identify a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination: violation of the social media policy.
What does this case mean for employers?
This case is an excellent example that social media policies apply to everyone. It also serves as a reminder that managers and supervisors can engage in social media rants and gaffes, and must be disciplined accordingly. Finally, this case highlights, again, the importance of having a well-written, legally compliant, social media policy that an employer enforces consistently to all employees.
SMART TIP:? Social media policies should restrict supervisors and employees alike from escalating and publicizing personnel matters in unprofessional and damaging ways. Such a policy helps discourage embarrassing displays of unprofessional behavior and can mitigate damage to an employer?s brand and image.