Technology is constantly offering more ways to communicate, and employers rightfully should feel pressured to keep up with the ways technology impacts the workplace. Here are a few practical lessons you can put to good use to make sure you don’t get left behind:
The Negative Facebook/Instagram Post
One of the more common way that technology will impact your workplace is when you learn that one of your employees has gone on a diatribe about some aspect of your business on their social media network. My first lesson is not to overreact. Often your first instinct will be to conduct a scorched earth attack against the employee, but that could blow up in your face. The local media still finds these situations novel, and terminating an employee for mouthing off about how awful it is working at your place of business might only lead to more publicity and call unwanted attention to the matter. Take a step back and remember that the most likely outcome is that the employee’s followers on social media will see the post and forget about it two minutes after checking the rest of the messages on their social media wall. And even the friends with whom the complaint resonates…how will this really impact your business? Unless the employee is posting trade secrets, or publishing possibly defamatory messages (lies about your last health inspections, for example), you may just want to ignore them. And if your employee has been posting complaints about the workplace itself? It may be considered protected activity according the National Labor Relations Board, even if you aren’t unionized, so tread carefully in determining what is and isn’t off-limits.
The Sexting/Snapchat Harassment
All too often these days, sexual harassment (or other illegal discrimination) claims will be founded on inappropriate messages or pictures sent via smartphone. It’s obvious, but bears repeating: you do have the right to monitor and legislate employee communication, even over personal communication devices, so make sure you are aware that it may be your responsibility to investigate should you learn about possibly harassing conduct. Some enterprising harassers are using apps like Snapchat, which are designed to disappear after a short period of time, believing this will shield them from any responsibility. Although the content might be destroyed, if you learn of such behavior, ask your employee to document their memories of what was sent to them as soon as possible. As an employer, this is no different than any other “he said, she said” scenario you may be called upon to investigate. While you should always proceed cautiously, never believe that your hands are tied and that you are precluded from action just because the smoking gun has disappeared.
The Serial Texter
You are more than justified in requiring employees to speak with managers over the telephone when phoning in an absence or announcing that they will be late. You would be wise to ensure this kind of policy is well-articulated in your written handbook; there are many reasons why it is in your best interests to talk with an employee rather than just seeing an “OMG SO SORRY IM GUNNA BE L8 2 DAY BOSS ;)” text. But be wary of the other ways that texting can get you in trouble. Remember that any communication between supervisor and employee might one day become evidence in a lawsuit, either necessary to prove employee performance deficiencies, or coming back to haunt you if the manager sends inappropriate messages. Moreover, hourly employees should not have to take their personal time to respond to work-related texts while off-the-clock, otherwise they may have an entitlement to wage payments. You would be wise to limit or prohibit your managers from communicating with your workers about company business via text.
Rich Meneghello is a partner at the Portland office of Fisher & Phillips, LLP, one of the oldest and largest employment law firms in the country dedicated to representing the interests of management. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org