Despite many of the Chicken Little wannabes who put out every possible stop sign, there are legitimate reasons your company can use social media.
The world of sports has provided another reminder that not all employee activity and social media postings are shielded from employer decision-making. This time, the story involves NFL replacement referee Brian Stropolo, who was scheduled to officiate this past weekend’s football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers. The problem according to his employer (the NFL) was that Mr. Stropolo appears to be quite the New Orleans Saints fan, as his personal Facebook page showed him dressed in Saints attire, as well as him tailgating at a Saints preseason game this past summer.
I’m assuming that the NFL has been devoting its monitoring time to the barrage of comments from fans, players and coaches who blame every player failing on these replacement refs. Because the NFL did not catch Mr. Stropolo’s particular allegiance so quickly. According to Mike Flacy at digitaltrends.com, friends of Mr. Stropolo even posted comments on his Facebook page last week such as: “Hey, now be nice with those yellow flags for our Saints!!”, and “That’s awesome you get to be an official for a Saints game! I didn’t think they would let you since your [sic] from Louisiana.”
The NFL did learn of the Facebook postings in time to pull Mr. Stropolo right before game time. His Facebook page has apparently been removed from public view. Make no mistake about it, though: No one seems to be claiming that Mr. Stropolo would have engaged in any wrongdoing during the actual game. On the other hand, there does not appear to be any “protected class” discrimination involved with the NFL’s use of social media here, but rather the NFL, after seeing the postings, had a legitimate business reason to believe that there would be an “appearance of impropriety” at a minimum. And that was enough to suspend him for the time being from further officiating.
Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development?
From a personal standpoint, I certainly wish there had been some Cowboys fans officiating this past Sunday’s game up in Seattle. But I digress.
From your perspective, so much ink is spilled (electronically speaking) over the perils and plights of employers who use social media for employment-related decisions. But as the loyal followers of this blog know, not everything is out of bounds. With the appropriate consideration and aforethought, there are certainly some very big advantages to using social media to obtain certain information on potential, current, and even former employees. Lawfully obtaining the right information may even be a game changer.