IT departments are often asked by managers to monitor employees’ web use, especially what they do on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. But a recent lawsuit shows how some types of social network snooping can get companies in trouble for privacy violations.
A registered nurse was fired from her position after her employer became aware of potentially controversial political statements she made on her Facebook page.
The employee configured her account so the posts were not able to be viewed by the general public, and she did not “friend” any members of hospital management. However, she was Facebook friends with several of her co-workers.
The employee’s boss saw the post after asking one of her co-workers who was her Facebook friend to log on to the site so the supervisor could view the employee’s page. After that, the employee was fired.
The employee sued, claiming the hospital violated her privacy when her supervisor saw the online comments without authorization. The hospital asked the court to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the comments were posted to a public website, and the employee shouldn’t have expected them to remain private.
However, the judge refused to toss the case, ruling that the employee may still have an expectation of privacy, even after sharing the posts with several others online (Cite: Ehling v. Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corp.). We’ll keep you posted as the lawsuit moves forward.
What does this decision mean for IT departments and managers? While the courts still have a lot to decide regarding the intersection between privacy and social media, organizations may want to be careful about keeping track of what employees do online while they’re outside of work, especially when it’s activity that isn’t entirely public.