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What Should I Know About My Public Employees’ Social Media Use?

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have changed the way we communicate as a society. Now more than ever, we have a unique glimpse into the private lives of our acquaintances, friends, colleagues, and even employees. While we are endowed with free speech in this country, public sector employers should still be cautious about just how much their employees reveal in their online posts. If an employee works for a public school, government office, or law enforcement agency in New Jersey, they can get in trouble for a social media post, especially if it reflects poorly on their workplace.

New Jersey Law and Public Workers’ Social Media Use

New Jersey Public Law 2013, Chapter 155, addresses the interests of the public employer and the rights of the employee acting as a free citizen utilizing social media. The law prohibits the employer from seeking access to employees’ social media accounts, but it does not prevent them from viewing public posts or posts brought to their attention. Under the law, a public sector employer has the following rights when it comes to reviewing employee social media posts:

  • A requirement to comply with state and federal laws.
  • Enforcement of policies regarding the use of electronic communication during working hours on their devices or made for business purposes at any time.
  • Ability to investigate issues of compliance with applicable regulations and laws brought to their attention as a result of social media activity and any unauthorized transfer of confidential information to a personal account.
  • View, access, and use any information posted by a potential or current employee on public social media accounts.

Bad Social Media Use

Social media is important to both the employer and the employee. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, about 43 percent of employers use social media to check on current employees. The following are social media behaviors that left employers with a bad impression:

  • Provocative or inappropriate information
  • Drinking or drug use
  • Discriminatory comments
  • Poor communication skills
  • Bad-mouthing previous employers
  • Sharing confidential information from previous employers
  • Lying about an absence
  • Posting too frequently

An employer can act on public posts that contradict the values of the public school, office, or department where the employee works; an employee does not have to give them access. If an employee retaliates and uses slander against the institution, they may be penalized under the law. An experienced employment lawyer can best explain your rights.

When it comes using social media, finding out where to draw the line at free speech is not always simple. At MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser, our skilled West Chester employment lawyers handle complex legal issues facing public sector employers. To learn more about our services, call 484-318-7106 or use the online form to contact us today. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we represent clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and New Jersey.