It is now common practice for employers to include social media policies within their employee handbooks, and it is an important part of creating clear expectations for employees. However, employers must also consider the implications of these policies beyond the handbook and determine how they wish to handle violations of these policies in a way that both protects the company and employee/employer relations. Here, the computer forensics and data specialists at Atlantic Data Forensics provide guidance on best practices for social media policies in the context of employee termination and discipline.

Know Your Rights as an Employer and the Rights of Employees

Maryland is an “at-will” employment state, meaning that an employer can hire and fire employees for any reason and at any time, so long as it is not illegal discrimination and no stipulations exist within the employment contract that specify otherwise. This means that employers in Maryland have the legal right to fire an employee if the employer feels that the employee has violated the social media policy of the company.

While the First Amendment protects employees from retaliation against the government for their speech, this Constitutional right does not apply to private employment, and only applies in limited cases to public employees. This means that if a private employer fires an employee for their political beliefs, for example, this action is not in violation of the employee’s Constitutional rights, even if some may consider the action unfair or immoral.

Employees cannot, however, be terminated for speaking out against an illegal act their company has performed. So, if an employee posts on Facebook that their company is illegally discriminating against certain employees, and it is found to be true, the company cannot fire the employee because of the claims he or she has made.

Consider the Context of the Policy Infringement

Some policy infringements will be more severe than others, and as such employers may want to consider creating a disciplinary policy that reflects these variations. An employee who occasionally scrolls through their Twitter feed at the office, for example, may not deserve as punitive of disciplinary measures as an employee who uses Twitter to send sexually explicit or racially offensive comments to a coworker or manager. As an employer, determine which offenses will automatically incur termination, which offenses will incur unpaid leave and which will incur a verbal warning or other disciplinary measure.

Include Disciplinary Measures Within Your Employee Handbook

The best way to mitigate the risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit is to clearly detail the consequences of violating your company’s social media policy within the employee handbook. Regardless of how liberal or punitive the policy is, ensure it is written within the employee handbook, so that every employee has the opportunity to read and acknowledge the policy. Also considering requiring every employee to sign a form stating they have read and agreed to the policies stipulated within the handbook.

Mitigate the Risks of Employee Termination with Atlantic Data Forensics

Whether an employee leaves on positive or negative terms, it is important for employers to ensure a smooth transition and protect the company from potential threats. Atlantic Data Forensics helps employers to secure a terminated employee’s devices, as well as any company data they may have accessed, in order to create a smooth transition, prevent intellectual property theft and minimize the risk of a prolonged wrongful termination suit. Provide your company the protection it deserves—contact Atlantic Data Forensics today to discuss our Safe Departure program.  

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