Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites have been a fact of life for nearly a decade. Everyone from high-school students to retirees uses the sites to keep in touch with friends, network with colleagues and talk about their personal lives. Even as social media became an integral part of many companiesí strategies for finding new customers, interacting with clients, and marketing products and services, many legal departments lagged behind in considering how it could impact their clientsí risk profiles.
Tree of Knowledge
Social media can provide a wealth of information about employees and applicants, but is it information employers want to know?
When he started his job as an auditor in the inspector general’s office at the U.S. Library of Congress, Peter TerVeer had a great relationship with his boss, John Mech. So much so, in fact, that Mech tried to set TerVeer up on a date with his daughter. TerVeer didn’t tell Mech that he was gay. But when Mech’s daughter added TerVeer as a friend on Facebook, she quickly noticed that he’d “liked” a page called “TwoDads.us,” which focuses on issues facing same-sex parents. TerVeer’s relationship with his boss rapidly went downhill. According to a lawsuit filed on his behalf in August 2012, TerVeer was subjected to persistent anti-gay comments and was eventually fired. The suit alleges discrimination and retaliation.
An array of federal regulators is gearing up to challenge companies’ use of social media.
While the NLRB continues to grab the lion’s share of headlines for its aggressive stance on social media policies, several other federal regulators have been quietly announcing plans to begin paying more attention to how companies use social media to reach customers and the general public.
The wealth of information stored in social media accounts continues to transform the litigation landscape, leaving employers with a host of thorny, unanswered questions.
For decades, most employment discrimination lawsuits boiled down to he-said, she-said battles, with an employee claiming she was damaged by discriminatory conduct and an employer claiming it had legitimate business reasons for its decisions. The wealth of information stored on social media is transforming how litigants prove their cases. Employees’ social networking sites may leave an extensive digital paper trail spread across the Internet.