People are increasingly turning to social media to vent their frustrations, and those frustrations frequently involve the workplace. The problem is that managers, who are deemed to speak and act for the company as a matter of law, can cause problems with a social media rant.
This issue is on my mind because it recently struck close to home. A friend had applied and was being considered for a department head position at a prestigious university – an excruciating process involving repeated trips to the university for multiple rounds of interviews. After many months, the choice was narrowed down to my friend and another candidate. My friend then received a call – FROM HER SISTER – saying, “You better take a look at this blog!” The blog post had been written by a member of the selection committee, who was upset that the committee majority had chosen the other candidate for the position! Yes, that’s right – my friend found out that she did not get the position from a blog post!
What’s the lesson here? Managers should be cautioned to be careful when sharing work-related information on social media. They can be told not to discuss confidential company information – certainly internal decision-making processes should be confidential. Moreover, disclosing disagreement about a company decision undermines that decision and can create dissension and morale issues within the ranks. At a minimum, managers certainly should not be discussing a decision before it has been officially announced.
Of course, employees’ rights to complain about the terms and conditions of their employment are protected by the National Labor Relations Act – they can complain about management and corporate decisions, and even call managers vulgar names. But managers do not enjoy that same protection, and private employers can take action to prevent managers from sharing information that the employer deems inappropriate – and take action against the managers if they do. (Note that I am not talking about public employers, whose managers may be entitled to certain free speech rights under the 1st Amendment, and different rules may apply in states that have statutes protecting certain off duty legal activities, although for goodness’ sake, companies should still be able to tell managers to “keep it zipped” about hiring deliberations!).