According to a ruling by the federal appeals court in Georgia, "an employee can be fired for violating an employer's policies on photos posted on a public website." The ruling came about as a result of a case involving a probationary firefighter working for the Savannah Fire Department who posted photos of herself to MySpace.
Some of the photos depicted the employee in her firefighter's uniform, while in others, she appeared to be wearing much less. From an anonymous tip, the fire department learned of the revealing photos and, in light of the possible negative impact to the department's image, opted for the mildest disciplinary measure-an oral reprimand.
However, when the employee was confronted, she reacted defensively and combatively, pointing to photos posted by male firefighters that related to the department and claiming she was being singled out unfairly for punishment. When she refused to give the names of the men she accused of similar behavior, she was fired for insubordination. By ruling in the fire department's favor, the courts confirmed that employers can fire workers for violations of organizational policies regarding photos posted to public websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter.
Businesses and other organizations must have policies in place pertaining to the use of social networking sites, whether for professional or personal services, and they must make sure all employees are aware of them to avoid similar legal entanglements. With detailed, clearly communicated policies in force, employers can be protected from potential threats to reputation and profitability presented by such questionable activity, and employees benefit by knowing exactly what is and isn't allowed.
These sample policies and policy templates can help get you started on developing a sound social media policy for your organization:
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