Social media a mixed legal bag for bosses and workers

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Facebook postings, Twittering and Fantasy football leagues in the office can become productivity and legal issues, for both the boss and the employee.

Fidelity Investments fired four workers for violating its anti-gambling policies by participating in a fantasy football league at work. And estimates are that employers lost $615 million in productivity every week during fantasy football season.

The dismissal brings into light new issues arising from widespread use of social media. Businesses tend to mix personal and professional lives by creating fan pages or Twittering about their corporation.

“Businesses should really implement a social media policy,” said Holland and Hart employment attorney Christie McCall. “They can’t control free speech, and they wouldn’t want to. But they can list consequences for posting negative information or confidential information about their employer.”

But social media represents another issue – one for bosses. If a boss discovers information about an employee that could be used to fire them, he or she should be very careful.

“There is a definite problem with learning too much information,” she said. “Particularly if they find something – like sexual orientation – that isn’t immediately obvious, but makes the employee a protected class. Taking action to fire them based on that information learned from Facebook would be wrong.”

But other things could be fair ground. Drug use bragged about on a Facebook page for instance. But McCall cautions that the area of law is very new and few cases have been tried in the courts.

“It’s hard to know,” she said. “It might not be illegal; you did invite your boss to your Facebook page. But I haven’t come across any cases about it – yet.”

The best advice, she said, is for companies to implement a policy for dealing with social media. And for workers to be careful about what they post – and give their bosses access to.