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In the last post I talked about using social media as evidence and its legal relevancy to the litigation process.  Today’s post will be full of legalese, but my blawg is designed to help entrepreneurs of all types and that includes my fellow solopreneurs and small law firm attorneys.  As always, I will be discussing today’s subject in general and informative terms, and any procedural stuff will be with respect to Federal Rules.

Therefore, if you are a non-lawyer feel free to stick around, but today’s information is geared to others in the legal profession.  I thank you for stopping by and I will soon be getting back to some relevant posts to general small business situations.  However, before you go be aware that there are certain ethical rules that lawyers and those attached to them must follow.  For example, a lawyer cannot pose as a fictitious person and friend you on Facebook to get your information.

That being said just remember you should always be guarded about what you put out for the public using social media. Have a review process and if you have questions feel free to check my earlier posts on Social Media Policy.

Areas of the Law and Social Media as Evidence

Social media evidence has found a place in criminal and divorce (especially, with the flirtations that go back and forth between people).  It also has great use with corporate and employment law. Social media is good for providing alibis for criminal proceedings, discrediting a witness, and investigating people that are a part of the case.

In terms of torts, corporate blogs and statements put out by employees are great for products liability and personal injury situations.  While disputes of discrimination, emotional distress, and workers’ compensation fraud cases are backed up with Facebook pictures and Twitter posts.  Many bloggers use pictures, clips, and text freely from IP covered sources.

Some cases to consider:

  • EEOC v. Simple Storage Mgmt (2010) – refuting a claim of emotional distress from discriminatory conduct
  • TEKsystems, Inc. v. Hammernick (2010) – where plaintiff alleges that defendants violated a non-solicit agreement via their LinkedIn account

When to Gather Evidence

Consider poking around early.  If  you think your client may be sued or wants to sue someone else see what the opposing side has already put out there.  Basically, find out what you freely can about your opponent.  If they regularly use social media, consider it an opportunity to get information on them for free.  Once litigation commences, posts get deleted, privacy settings get set to maximum, and the ease of just screen-capping or printing a webpage is gone.

The flip side is that once discovery commences you will be allowed to use more formal methods to try and compel social media evidence.  Some ideas on the procedural formalities:

  • Interrogatories – should be used to identify the opponent’s screen or avatar names and the underlying social media account that is connected to each of those names;
  • Requests for production – should seek blog entries and postings, and if you can, use the date and timestamp connect to them;
  • Requests for admission – these should then be designed to backup and authenticate any such information gathered.

A Rule 26(f) conference should lay out the ground rules for social media production.

Defending Your Use of Social Media as Evidence

Watch how people connected you talk about your products and services. Make sure employees and paid bloggers disclose anything you gave them in connection with touting your business's products and services.

Be prepared to defend all of that valuable evidence that you have discovered.  I discussed relevancy last week, but also hearsay and authentication enter into the equation.  Normally, it is sufficient that the witness who has personal knowledge that the evidence is in fact what it is purported to be.  Courts have accepted that website printouts need not be authenticated by the original poster or the site’s owner, but by an attorney that testified that they visited the site, recognized it as opposing party’s, and printed the screen. (Jarritos, Inc. v. Los Jarritos)(2007)

In general, for authentication issues, ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. Whether the exhibit is really a printout from the site you are claiming it to be from?
  2. And whether the printout can be satisfactorily shown to have arisen from the where you are claiming it came from?

For a more in-depth look at authentication of social media the ABA has provided an excellent article on the matter written by David I. Schoen and can be found here.

As always if you like this post or any of my other series please Subscribe to this blawg to receive updates to your e-mail.  In addition, follow me on Twitter @Rkhewesq and Like Me on Facebook under Ryan K. Hew.  If you need to contact me directly, please e-mail me at Ryankhew@hawaiiesquire.com.

Next time I will continue looking at other issues of using social media as evidence.  Namely, collecting and then preserving it.

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Hawaii Business Magazine’s SmallBiz Lunch and Learn: Leveraging Technology and Social Media to Grow Your Business.

It was a great event and I was able to learn some great advice and thought of some good ideas.  The experts that had on had were as follows: 1) Roxanne Darling of Bare Feet Studios and the Founder of Social Media Club; 2) Cyrus Driver, VP of Oceanic Time Warner Cable Business Class; and 3) Bernard Uy Co-Founder of Wall-to-Wall Studios.

This is NOT a Social Media and the Law post.  It is a post on some of the nuggets of practical wisdom that I gathered from the lunch and would like to share.  I also feel this gives you some of that business perspective I was mention in my posts as a JD who has his MBA.

They are the following, in no particular order of priority:

  • Thanks to social media EVERY business is a technology business, you will use it some aspect;
  • always thanks to social media your customers OWN your brand – they have become self-publishers;
  • because of the prior two points, LISTEN to your customers;
  • in fact, use them as informal discussion and research group on new marketing plans;
  • ask your customers who they think your competitors are for defining your brand;
  • if you get a negative review on Yelp or the like, it’s good thing – gives you an opportunity to show how you respond and change;
  • use video, there are some great apps on smartphones that you can upload to your Youtube account;
  • be more personal, less cookie-cutter in your usage of social media;
  • if you cannot compete on price, location, and the like – compete on YOU, make sure your customer/clients like working with you;
  • always update and double–check your links, dead links help no one.

As a solopreneur I don’t know if I will get to make use of all these ideas, but I definitely think that any business, great or small should definitely think about these things and it offers a great starting point.

See you on Monday or Tuesday next week when I continue discussing evidentiary matters in the context of Social Media.

Have an awesome weekend!

-RKH

For the past several weeks I have discussed the concerns of just putting things on your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts.  I shared with you a few of the scenarios and stories that companies, employees, and people go through when social media goes awry at the workplace.
However, how does this stuff come up, legally speaking?  That’s where we have the Rules of Evidence.  For you readers that are laypeople I will try to keep this as simple as possible, but bear in mind you will be exposed to some legal terms.   For attorneys and law students, we will be sticking to Federal Rules, even though I am in Hawaii.

The Starting Point: Relevancy

Generally speaking, for evidence to be admissible it has to be relevant.  Yes, it is an extremely low threshold and in the realm of fast postings, easy tweets, and tons of drinking pictures that is kind of scary.  Is it relevant that you posted a picture of you jumping up and down partying at the bar?

Yeah, it might be, if you are in a battle over workers’ compensation with your employer and its insurance company over your work-related back injury and that picture was taken after your claim.

Thus, many things in the realm of social media become pieces that lawyers will use to try and craft a story on a matter in a case.  Another words, all those posts, tweets, pics, videos, and whatever else you are throwing up on your account could be fair game as evidence.

What about my Right to Privacy?

While the threshold for admitting evidence is relatively easy, it just needs to be relevant, don’t you lawyers have all these exceptions to the rule?  Can I not claim the stuff I put on my Facebook and Twitter accounts is private stuff?

Yes, we have exceptions.  But, the Right to Privacy in social media is NOT one of them.   This case simply illustrates the principle of why you cannot post or tweet something believing it will be protected.  In Romano v. Steelcase, Inc., 2010 WL 3703242, the New York Supreme Court ordered one party to turnover their MySpace and Facebook content to the opposing party.  For this matter content includes photographs, posts, and even recent deletions.  Why?  The court stated when a person chooses to disclose or share such information their ability to then say that is private is weakened.   If you choose to put it up, then how can you reasonably say you think it will be private?

What about the Terms of Service or Privacy Policy? Won’t that Protect Me?

Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media sites all have varying Terms of Service and Privacy Policies, but they do remind you that while striving to maintain privacy and giving you the utmost control over your information there is no such thing as perfect privacy in social media.

Risks inherent in sharing information. Although we allow you to set privacy options that limit access to your information, please be aware that no security measures are perfect or impenetrable. We cannot control the actions of other users with whom you share your information. We cannot guarantee that only authorized persons will view your information. We cannot ensure that information you share on Facebook will not become publicly available. We are not responsible for third party circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures on Facebook. You can reduce these risks by using common sense security practices such as choosing a strong password, using different passwords for different services, and using up to date antivirus software.

(emphasis added) Take from Section 8 of Facebook’s Privacy Policy page.

If You are Worried About It, Don’t Post It

As many professionals both in social media and legal circles have told me.  Once you post something it does not go away.  Therefore, in situations where you claimed one thing to one person, but your social media posts clearly shows something else you could find yourself in trouble unexpectedly.  For instance you called in sick to work, but you are showing pictures of yourself at the beach.

Bottom line:  If you don’t want something used against you in court, don’t post it.

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Next time, I will continue the discussion of social media information usage in trial and litigation work and some of the rules and cases that are shaping the laws interaction with these forms of communication.

Don’t forget if you enjoy this series or any of the other series on my blawg feel free to subscribe in the right-hand corner of this page to receive e-mail updates on posts.  If you are on Facebook be sure to “Like” “Ryan K. Hew” to get updates there as well.

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Hey everyone!  Today’s post will be short and sweet as I have a lot of projects on my plate.  The main point of today’s post is to get you to think about crafting a good Social Media Policy for your company or organization.  The last several posts should be a reminder of the limitations of a Social Media Policy and how far you can go.

In several instances, overboard policies will be scrutinized and open you to lawsuits.  Completely lax or non-existent ones can also get you in trouble for not taking care of your employees’ posting behaviors during work time.   You should strive to think about what would be best practices for your company and the kind of policy that would make a good fit for it.   Lastly, you can draft your own policies, but if you are unsure the right kind of language or how such a policy would play out legally it is best to seek an expert to review and edit.   In addition, even if you don’t have time someone can work with you to come up with a policy for your review and approval.

Now let’s discuss some tips and considerations for your Social Media Policy:

  1. Purpose or goal – what are trying to accomplish with your policy?  – it is always helpful to have a starting point and place you are trying to get to with any project, and crafting a policy is not any different;
  2. Can do vs. Thou Shall Not – your policy should contain a mixture of what an employee should not do versus positive reinforcement of what they can do with social media, a lot of transparent and social organizations find great success in openness and encouragement of good behaviors;
  3. Internal vs. External – who is your audience? You can always breakdown your social media into categories, subgroups, or types of actions – the policy can start out focusing employees and how to responsibly use social media and then be expanded to how the company views social media usage when delivering its marketing and communications to the outside world;
  4. Authenticity and Accountability – make sure you are writing something genuine and that you care about, in addition, make sure your employees take responsibility with what they write and post – a lot of people feel it is ok to type whatever they feel like and shoot it off into the ether thinking a) no one is paying attention and b) there are no consequences even if they are reading – be sure to make it clear these thoughts are wrong;
  5. Respect for Intellectual Property – make sure to check with the owner of images and works if you can use them, and be sure to always attribute and not take credit for what is not yours;
  6. Protecting your Property – in the same vein that your employees should respect others, they should so respect the owner and the company, which employees them – openness does not necessarily mean sharing your trade secrets
  7. Simplicity – just because the trouble you and your employees can get into involves a lot of legality and technicalities does not necessarily mean that the policy itself has to be written that way – vague, obtuse, and unclear legalese does not help anyone figure out where you stand on a certain behavior or action; it should be clear and concise.

Thanks for reading these simple tips and remember if you always have questions or doubts seek out help!

Next time for Social Media and the Law we will be moving out of creating a Social Media Policy and entering the legal realm of evidence.  These posts will concentrate on a lot of case law and discussing the impact social media is having on the legal system.  While, most laypeople and businesses probably won’t be too interested feel free to follow along.  These posts are more for fellow attorneys curious about how social media has been brought into play during trials and litigations.

As always if you were interested in this series or my other series, like Draw the Law.  Feel free to subscribe by clicking on the “Subscribe” button on the right-hand side of this page.  You can also follow me on Twitter @RKHewesq or Like Me at “Ryan K. Hew” on Facebook.

See you next time!

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*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.


Last post was about creating a Social Media Policy with respect to the employer-employee relationship.  The idea is to minimize potential suits between the employee and employer.  Issues like prohibiting certain behaviors, such as posting negative comments or former employees taking company information should be the concern with an internal policy.

However, many businesses are coming to realize the potential power of blogs, Twitter, and Facebook and readily use social media as a marketing and advertising tool.  And why not?  It is free, relatively easy to set-up, and allows you a good amount of control over content.  However, just like internal disputes you can quickly wind up with external disputes with other companies, commenters, and the like over issues of intellectual property infringement and defamation.

Advertising Statements: Puffing Yourself Up and Tearing Down the Competition

FTC and Endorsements: Disclose Your Relationship

Generally, marketing, advertising, and public relations specialists are comfortable with using mere words of puffery.  They also know that it has been the law that if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer or if that endorse has been give something of value in exchange for praise of the marketer’s product or service the ad must disclose the connection.  The point is that knowing about the connection helps the reader or watcher evaluate the quality of the endorsement.

This attitude comes into play when using social media as well.  Specifically, the FTC has issued guidelines about how bloggers, and social media specialists talk about a company’s product or services.  This includes your employees, as well as any marketer, advertiser, or in generally someone speaking on your behalf and you give them something expecting endorsements.

Say you have a new delicious musubi (rice ball) that you want people in Honolulu to know about.  One of your employees is a well-known food blogger.  You give her a sample of the product with the intention that she is to eat it and then rave about it on her blog.  If she does not state that she is your an employee you would be violating the FTC guidelines.

Defamation: Don’t Start Ugly Rumors

On the flip side is going after the competition.  If you or your employees typically engage in discussions via Twitter, Facebook, or comments on your company’s blog you may sometimes start joking with one another.  It is easy to see that this leads to making fun of the competition’s products and services.  However, going too far may mean making false statements that damages their reputation.  In this situation, you may be slapped with a defamation suit.

The general better policy in a situation like this is to remind people to be positive in their postings rather than taking the low road.  Above all do not engage in the rumor mill thinking that the amount of information going out there will protect you.  Once something gets sent out onto the Internet it is almost impossible to take back.  Just look at some of our politicians and celebrities to realize the truth of that fact.

Intellectual Property: Using Other Works

Many people love to share images or quotes on their Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, or blogs.  Generally, they search the web for a cute image and slap it on their post and think they are done.  While, they think that is ok, what they are unaware is that they are infringing on the person who took or made that image’s intellectual property (IP) rights.  When it comes to business the stakes are higher because the owner believes you are using their working to make a profit.

Copyright and Trademark Infringement

In general, when using images and phrases the best policy is to create your own or license it out.  Do not take images and words from another’s website and slap it on your own trying to claim it as your own.  For a prime example of this you can look at my own blog.  Many of the images I use are stock photos,  if I were to go to another law firm’s website and start taking their images and pdf files and posting them here, and claiming them as my own those would be violations of the firm’s intellectual property rights.  While, there may be a  “fair use” exemption it is less likely you will get to use it for your money-making company blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

Best policies are to create or license the images you want to use, be sure to use attribution links and short quotes from another site.  The last thing in the social mediaverse is you want to be known as a thief of people’s IP.  Always clear use of photos, music, works, etc . . . if you don’t know where they come from.

By the way, remember that people do have publicity rights this includes their image, likeness, and name much like a company controls their trademarks and copyrights, celebrities and people control their image.

Last Words

Next week, I will wrap-up this section with some general tips of crafting a policy and what to think about and some other miscellany.  In general, if you are concerned or feel that your company and employees need a re-training or updating on social media and the laws talk to an expert and have an attorney review and draft your policies.

Don’t forget if you enjoy this series or any of the other series on my blawg feel free to subscribe in the right-hand corner of this page to receive e-mail updates on posts.  If you are on Facebook be sure to “Like” “Ryan K. Hew” to get updates there as well.

See you next time!

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*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

In this series of Social Media and the Law I have touched upon some of the major legal areas of concern when dealing with social media and employment.  To see what was talked about or for a refresher click on the following links:

Having a Social Media Policy

First of all, let me say I understand that a lot of this can be overwhelming.  You may feel that even crafting a Social Media policy is not even a part of the bottom line and seems to be difficult endeavor, especially if you are a small business owner worried about inventory or keeping customers, now you have to think about Facebook, Twitter, and blogs?  So you have one of these initial responses: a) close your eyes and hope for the best; b) create a social media policy that is so general that it is unenforceable or has no meaning; or c) completely ban social media use.

I find a lot of smaller organizations feel this way because they feel they do not have the resources to be effective in this matter.  First of all, smaller organizations are closer to their employees and can directly work with them to craft a good policy.  Secondly, there are many affordable attorneys that can either review what you create or draft something as a pat of your handbook and employee agreements package.

With that being said let’s look at some of the things you should think about when creating a social media policy.  I will start out with the legal landmines you want to avoid when crafting a policy.  It will be followed with some business questions you should ask yourself.

Legal Considerations

One of the goals of a good media policy is one that should help protect the employer from lawsuits.  I will do a brief run through of the various laws that affect your policy, and use examples of what might be considered a good response or way to handle the situation.

Employment Law

Protected Statuses and Discrimination – remember that certain demographics of the population have protected statuses under both federal and state laws.  Therefore, in this area you should avoid using an applicant’s Facebook page to make the decision to hire them.  Once again, remember Hawaii now protects gender expression.

Harassment – as an employer you are legally obligated to create a safe work environment for your employees.  Therefore, if you have a case of “sexting” (sexual texts) or cyberbullying you need to take action or run the risk of violating the law.

Fair Credit Reporting – remember if you use a third party to obtain background information on a potential employee you must get their permission.  As part of the hiring process you could have potential hires fill out authorization forms.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – the National Relations Board, which enforces the NLRA has been keen on clamping down on employers that have broad social media policies that ban protected activities or respond to negative postings on Facebook/Twitter by firing the offending employee.  A couple things about this situation:

  1. Narrow the scope of your social media policy.  Avoid blanket policies that prohibit everything and implement a review policy if you find an offending comment by an employee on a social network site.  Be careful and make sure the comment is offensive and not a commentary on the working environment.
  2. Create a grievance process. If your employees are bad-mouthing your company or managers you may not have a good venting mechanism or allow them to air their grievances.  So they are turning to an outlet, which gives them control over their complaints.  You might need to investigate where the tension is coming from.

Intellectual Property

Trade Secrets – remember that if an employee discloses protected information to a new employer, that new employer could be faced with liability from the former employer.  In general, all companies that have an employee who has access to sensitive information should have that employee sign non-disclosure and non-compete agreements.  In addition, if you are in the habit of providing electronic communication devices (i.e cellphones, laptops, etc . . .) you should remind the employee that the equipment is company property along with all the data contained on it.   You also want to make sure your employees do not post things that are supposed to be secret.

While, this is not a trade secrets situation, this video report by KITV news on a Honolulu Liquor Commission employee highlights the problems of Facebook posting when an employee has access to sensitive information (which includes the identity of fellow employees).

Specific Professions

HIPAA – if you are medical provider or a business affiliate of one should be highly sensitive to staff having access to protected health information on their computers that have Internet access.  Recall that a woman got in trouble for posting a patient’ HIV status on her MySpace.  Excellent training and careful security protocols are a must in this area.

Legal Ethics – attorneys, your paralegals and secretaries should avoid talking about what they are doing at work.  If you have a client who does not want to be identified, and a paralegal inadvertently identifies them through a Tweet or posting a picture you will be in violation of legal ethical rules.  Similar to HIPAA, a lot of training and explicit policies should help you prevent such problems.

Business Considerations

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but from a business owner/manager’s perspective these are some questions you should consider when crafting your social media policy:

  • What is your corporate culture?
  • What is the function/nature of your business?  Does it require a lot of confidentiality?
  • Who would you like to have access to the company’s information?
  • Does your company use social media for its advertising and marketing?
  • What is the size of your company?
  • When (during the day/week) is your company in operation?  What is your break-time policy?
  • How sophisticated is your workforce?
  • How important is computing, Internet access, and mobile usage to your company?

You should have some realistic expectations about creating a social policy and then implementing it.  Having absurd goals, like you are going to check all your employee’s Facebook pages at the end of the workday does not do you any favors.   Your policy should be fair and practical because at the end of the day you are are the one who has to get it to work.

Before I get to implementation considerations I will touch upon another aspect of creating a Social Media policy.  As we have seen Facebook, Twitter, and the like do not solely affect your relationship with your employees.  These platforms are sometimes integrated into a company’s marketing strategy and there are certain legal concerns of their use when you engage the world outside the organization.  So next time, (which will be July 5th due to 4th of July celebrating) I will discuss Crafting a Social Media Policy and the Outside World.

Don’t forget if you enjoy this series or any of the other series on my blawg feel free to subscribe in the right-hand corner of this page to receive e-mail updates on posts.  If you are on Facebook be sure to “Like” “Ryan K. Hew” to get updates there as well.  See you next time.

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*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

I would just like to inform my readers that this blawg post will be delayed till later tonight, as I have been busy working on some other projects.  However, it will definitely be up today (6/21/11) and will discuss more from the employee’s perspective about their social media usage at work.

Access to Justice Means Giving People the Tools to Get There

In the mean time, here is some food for thought.  Lately, I have been trying to get more involved with access to justice here in Hawaii.  If you read my Civil Beat article, then you know I supported the passage of the increase to ILAF to fund organizations that do good work in terms of making justice accessible for the community.

However, as I stated I believe that there is an information gap as we continue to expand our laws and create a civil society.  Those who do not have access typically are also behind the curve when it comes to technology use because let’s face it, obtaining computers and smartphones may be relatively inexpensive for professionals, but not for others.   The Governor of Hawaii has made a drive to adopt and upgrade our technologies, and I support him in this endeavor.

In my humble opinion, I would like to see as his term continues on a stronger an investment in tools and infrastructure.  Namely,  I really think that we need to get cheap laptops and computers into our impoverished communities, and set-up free wifi spots throughout the State.  Why?  I don’t believe you get to access justice if you do not even know what is going on or where to look.  With infrastructure in place, kids are pretty smart once you give them some educational training, they can then begin seeking out all the knowledge that the web has to offer (i.e. like the information on this blawg).

Communication devices and the infrastructure to support them will bring greater access to justice because the population will be more knowledgeable and have skills needed to survive in this age of digital information.  Simple searches on an easy to use laptop through a public wifi network will bring them one step closer to getting answers or at least asking the right questions, which as many attorneys know all apart of the law.  Just my thoughts on social justice and public expenditures.

Anyway, see you later with my Social Media and the Law post!

Admit it.  You have posted something on Facebook or Tweeted on your phone while you are at work today.  I bet you are even doing it now as you read this blog!  However, there are some legitimate concerns that an employer and employee should have when dealing with the workplace and social media usage.

The Employer and Social Media Use by Employees

As an employer should I be concerned that my employees are using social media on the job?   The answer to this question is a definite, “yes.”  Today, we will focus on an employer’s liability for the actions of their employees, what that means for social media use by an employee, and the various laws that come into that type of situation.

Employer Responsibility for the Actions of Employees: Respondeat Superior

Remember, how I mentioned in the last post that it is part of your due diligence to research qualified applicants?  Well, the reason is that you, the employer, is responsible for actions by your employees during work.  In the law we call it respondeat superior and it means “let the master answer” in Latin.

For example, let’s say a local moving company’s careless truck driver crashes the company truck into another car during rush hour in Downtown Honolulu.  The car driver will sue the moving company for hiring such a terrible employee.  It is due to respondeat superior that the driver can sue the employer (the master) for the negligent action of their employee.

How Social Media Fits into this Employer-Employee Relationship

With social media replace that truck with tools like Facebook and Twitter, and you see how you could be on the hook for your workers.  For example, let’s say you are a Honolulu marketing firm, and one of your employees decides to help your company by blasting your Maui competitor via Facebook;  they make false claims and are using the Maui company’s images in their Facebook attack.  They also then spend a better part of the working day harassing the Maui company’s Twitter feed by tweeting lewd questions.  Are you in big trouble for their actions?

Yes.  Now, let’s briefly look at some of the legal concerns that you should worry about when dealing with employees that use social media.

Trademark, Copyright and Patent Infringement

In the example story of the employee who used social media to attack the Maui company, they used another company’s image.  Whenever, you use another company’s intellectual property (trademarks, copyrights, and patents) without authorization you will face an infringement claim.  Let’s say an employee uses a rival company’s logo and crosses it out by using a digital media editor.  He then shares the picture through Facebook to proclaim that your company’s brand is better.  The use of their logo is a violation of their property right. Posting photographs, published works, or video clips owned by someone else can also present legal risk to the employer.

Defamation

An employee that is Tweeting or posting false statements that hurt another person or business’s reputation opens you up to a potential lawsuit.  Your employee that spends half her day attacking another company and making false claims about their products or services is a problem for you.

Harassment/Discrimination

We have heard in the news about “cyberbullying” in the schools, but apply those same behaviors to workers.  The employer has a duty to create a safe working environment and if one guy is “textually harassing” other workers it could open you to harassment claims by those workers.  If this bully is also singling out someone of a protected class (race, religion, sexual orientation, etc . . .) that also can lead to a discrimination claim.

Invasion of Privacy

Now, let’s say one of your managers accesses a worker’s private file and discovers that worker is a recovering alcoholic.  He then posts something to the effect of, “Did you know that so-and-so had alcohol problems?” to his friends on Facebook or tweets about it.  This would be an invasion of privacy of the worker.

Endorsements: Too Much of a Good Thing

Endorsements?  Isn’t it a good thing that my employee is helping me out?  It can be, sometimes.  However, in Hawaii were there are tons of workers who love their company like a family, the employer has to watch that their employees are not gushing over the company’s products and services and not disclosing their allegiance.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued several rules and guidelines regarding employees promoting their employer’s services and products via social media.  Basically, if they do not disclose their relationship and reader of the post that gets injured because of it the employer may be sued even though it was the employee who wrote the post.

For Medical Providers: HIPAA Concerns

This is a special note for medical practitioners and those in medical-related fields that handle patient information.  I’m sure you all are aware of HIPAA.  Then you should realize that the following combination of a patient’s private information, an unhappy employee, and that unhappy employee’s access to social media is a potentially explosive legal situation.

In fact, a similar situation has already occurred in Hawaii, where in 2009 a hospital worker was sentenced to a one-year jail term for accessing a patient’s medical record and posting the patient’s HIV status on her social media account.  While, the state was suing the employee, you should remember that employers are responsible for their employees and medical employers should always be concerned with a breach in Protected Health Information (PHI). In the case of posting a patient’s medical condition on a social media site, such an action is a definite breach.

For Lawyers and their Staff: Violating Attorney-Client Confidentiality

Those in the legal industry should already be able to see the headache that social media means for attorney-client confidentiality.  It easily takes one tweet or Facebook post by a legal secretary or paralegal that discusses what they are working on to violate legal ethics and rules.  Lawyers should take pains to train their staff from posting or tweeting about anything related to cases and clients.

Last Words

While, these things should of be concern to any business owner with employees in this day of social media there are steps they can take to deal with the situation.  Other than having a good screening and hiring process for thoughtful employees and employer can fashion a social media policy.  An attorney can investigate your workplace, make recommendations, and draft such a policy to be added to your handbook.  A rational and coherent social media policy would discourage many of the aforementioned behaviors and allow you to explain to workers what is acceptable with regard to social media and its use.  Finally, it may allow you to take steps to possibly terminate or punish that employee for violating your policy.  However, there are certain boundaries of what can be enforced in a social media policy.

With that, see you in the next Social Media and the Law where we will continue with Part II of Using Social Media at Work.  We will discuss the situation more form the employee’s side and some of the boundaries of what an employer can do with their social media policy.

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

This post and the next several posts will be about social media and its use in the workplace and the various laws that govern that interaction.  Today’s post discusses using social media during the job application process from the employer and potential employee’s perspectives.

Hiring the Right Person for the Job Requires Information

Accurate information about potential hires is valuable and social media businesses know that fact.  Just look at LinkedIn’s S-1 Filing with the SEC, in which they state that the limiting of access to their website and updating of users’ information would negatively impact their business model. (Source: LinkedIn’s S-1 Filing, See pg. 24)  They realize that up-to-date information is a must for the hiring of skilled workers.

The reality is that information about potential and current employees is valuable to any small business whether it is in Honolulu or somewhere else, but there are legal boundaries that both employers and employees should know of.

Employers using Social Media to Check Backgrounds of Potential Hires

Let’s say you just graduated.  You are applying to some business or firm in downtown Honolulu.  You submit your resume.  What happens?  Well, the person responsible for the hiring will likely peruse it and if interested do a precursory Internet search on your name to determine if they want to interview you.  Why?

Employers want to hire the best people to meet their goals.  Legally, employers are also responsible for their employees, so they want to know they are hiring someone they can trust and act responsibly.  Like it or not your social media is a representation of you, especially considering you are the one that updates it.

Employment-At-Will

Hawaii is an employment-at-will state, what that basically means so long as a business does not violate a specific law, that downtown Honolulu firm you are applying to can choose not to hire you for any list of reasons or no reason at all.  So posting that you are getting drunk every night of the week might give an employer pause and ask themselves would you behave the same when employed?  It will probably affect the businesses hiring decision.

Discrimination

Discrimination is one of those specific laws that a business cannot violate. In regard to today’s topic, employment discrimination includes hiring practices, such as application forms, interviews, and selection.  In general, Hawaii and federal law, specifically protect the following statuses:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Ancestry/national origin
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Income for child support obligations
  • Arrest and court record
  • National Guard participation
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Breast Feeding

Finally, do not forget that Hawaii recently added gender expression as a protected status in regards to employment matters. If you want to know more read my earlier post.

An example of violating discrimination laws would be if you, as a business owner, only checked Facebook or the Internet on applicants of a certain race or gender.  Another type of discrimination is if you as the employer searched social media accounts on all applicants, but you used the same information differently against one particular type of applicants.  For example, if all your applicants had pictures of themselves of drinking alcohol in public, but you viewed that fact more negatively against the female, or White, or gay applicants against the rest of the group that would be considered discrimination.

Privacy

Besides discrimination an employer should also be concerned with an invasion of privacy claim by a potential employee.  Generally, the potential employee has a tough time asserting this claim because you need a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and a lot of people keep their social media profiles open and to the public.  However, it is clear that if the applicant is using the highest privacy settings and the employer somehow gets pass all these barriers the claim is stronger.

Fair Credit Reporting Act

In addition, to revealing protected statuses like race or religion, intruding on their privacy, an employer’s simple act of searching social media may run them afoul with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  This federal law does not just cover credit reports, but cover the simple act of surfing the net for information on the potential employee.  Essentially, this compiled information is considered a “consumer report” and an employer cannot use this information unless it was obtained from a credit reporting agency, consented to by the applicant, or that applicant has been provided written notice of such a search.  Oft times a small business utilizes a third-party to its hiring because it is more cost effective, but what they do not realize that the background checks (which includes social media searches) need to be authorized by the applicant unless it violates the FCRA.

Violating Terms of Use

I want to make a quick mention of violating terms of use on a social media site.  Those conditions that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc . . . dictate how users, including people just stopping by to search someone out may use their sites.  You may run into trouble with those rules when you conduct searches and use that information incorrectly.  This in turn may expose you to other various lawsuits by the potential employee or even by the social media company itself.

Some Quick Tips and Last Words

For Potential Employees:

  1. Use the Privacy Settings on Facebook;
  2. Watch what you say on Twitter;
  3. Get a LinkedIn account;
  4. Search yourself on Google and make note what pops up; and
  5. Take steps to clear up negative impressions on the Web.

Basically, assume that any business you are applying to will search for information on you.  It is helps them evaluate you for the job.  If the information that you make public casts a negative light on you chances are they will not consider you for the job.  I suggest getting a LinkedIn Profile, as it can act as a professional resume and is readily accessible online, and it can easily be the first thing that pops up in a Google search on your name.  Also it can give more details in your profile than in your paper resume.  It also gets you in the habit of updating information about yourself for business purposes regularly.

*This one is for law students.  In recent years, the Florida Board of Bar Examiners filed their recommendation to search a bar applicant’s social media profile for the character and fitness investigation part of the application.  While Hawaii Bar does not consider that part of its application process yet, you all should be aware that a lawyer’s reputation is a key element to the practice of law.  With social media becoming part of our daily lives it is likely that many other bars will follow the FBBE’s recommendation.

For Employers:

  1. Review employment/hiring laws;
  2. Review hiring practices and polices, if you do not have any, now is the time to create some;
  3. Review the terms of use on any social media site you use for hiring;
  4. Implement/update a hiring policy so that is consistent with the law and terms of use agreements.

The bottom line is do not consider factors that have no relevancy to job performance, such as race, age, and sexual orientation.  They all are protected statuses by the law and using them as your criteria for hiring is discriminatory.  In addition, you should realize that a lot of social media information, but up my individual users is not always reliable.  In fact, people like to put up jokes, stories, and other forms of untrue information.  Finally, if you are unsure about the hiring policies or decisions that you are making have an attorney review them.

As a measure of practicality remember to take into account business factors too.  You should think about things like employee morale and public when you consider your hiring practices.  You may consider using social media as a beneficial recruitment tool rather than trying to search out every flawed characteristics of a candidate, especially with how LinkedIn is formatted.

Next time on Social Media I’ll discuss using social media use on the job.  Admit it.  You have checked your Facebook at work today!

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.   No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.   Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

New Series of Posts: Social Media and the Law

Later today I will be posting the first in a series of posts detailing Social Media and its interaction with the law.  Generally, it is geared toward small businesses, law students, and social media users.  In particular, for those groups of people living, working, and playing in Hawaii. However, everyone is welcome to read for their own education.

Let me give you a quick overview of the five major topic areas that I will be covering in posts over the next couple of months. They are as follows:

  1. Social Media and the Workplace
  2. Creating and Implementing a Social Media Policy
  3. Using Social Media as Evidence
  4. Social Media and Legal Miscellany

Today’s post will be under Social Media and the Workplace, specifically the hiring and background checks of potential employees by employers.  Please note that I will be switching the schedule of my postings.  The Social Media and the Law posts will come out Mondays or Tuesdays of the week and Draw the Law will be on Fridays or Saturdays of the week.

In the mean time, look below and check out some interesting facts on social media.

Just Some Facts about Social Media

Social media is quickly becoming a part of our everyday lives.  Many of us check our social media accounts at least once during the day.  Here are a few interesting facts:  (1) Facebook has more than 500 million active users and 50% of their active users log on Facebook in any given day (Source: Facebook) and (2) Twitter users send out about 55 million Tweets per day.  All of that adds up to an avalanche of information. (Source: DigitalBuzzBlog)

For some more interesting facts, information, and graphics from other sources on social media check out the following links: