Jane Pfeifle recounts a case in which an employer’s social media policy saved the day when an employee posted inappropriate information on her Facebook page that linked her to her employer. Find out what the employer did right.
Karla Scott worked for AT&T Mobility Services as a retail sales consultant. AT&T’s social media policies provide that employees may not post messages on external media unless they are confident that the messages are appropriate. Employees are to avoid making disparaging, obscene, or personal insults on any website where AT&T or its customers may be identified. Company policy also provides that employees must treat customers with the utmost respect.
On April 3, 2012, a customer of foreign origin and his son came to the Pierre store where Scott worked. The customer became upset, complained about the service he was receiving, and asked that a manager call him. After Scott went off duty, she posted the following comments on her Facebook page: “Dickheads from India who stand in front of my counter and bitch and moan and tell me how many oil wells they own in their own country. . . . My service aint good enuff for the likes of you? F_____t!!!” Scott’s profile showed that she worked for AT& T.
AT&T fired Scott for her Facebook post. The South Dakota Unemployment Insurance Division awarded her unemployment benefits, and AT&T appealed.
Off-duty posts can be off-limits
AT&T has made it clear that its rules about disparaging or insulting customers on external media apply regardless of whether employees are at work. The rules are intended to protect customers.
Even though Scott’s objectionable activity occurred after she left the store, her post specifically referred to work and “my counter” and “my service.” Other Facebook users could clearly see whom she worked for, that her post was about a customer, and that her comments arose from something that happened at her job. Her conduct therefore violated AT&T’s policy, which constituted work-connected misconduct that caused her to be denied benefits. Scott v. AT&T Mobility Services, LLC, App. No. 70605 (Unempl. Ins. App., 6/25/12).
AT&T’s policy doesn’t prohibit workers from identifying themselves as AT& T employees on social media, but their posts must be appropriate. This employee went far over the line, and her treatment of the customer constituted misconduct.
If you don’t have a social media policy, now may be the time to implement one. A rule urging employees to show respect for customers and use appropriate language when writing social media posts can provide ammunition for a termination decision when an employee steps over the line, even while she’s off duty.
Jane is an attorney with Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C. and practices in the firm’s Rapid City, South Dakota office. Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C. is the South Dakota member firm of Lex Mundi, the world’s leading association of independent law firms, which includes more than 21,000 lawyers practicing in 160 law firms worldwide. Jane concentrates her practice in all areas of employer-employee relations law, especially employment discrimination and wrongful termination.