NLRB strikes down yet another Social Media Policy, this time it is Georgia-Pacific’s policy that must be revised

January 24, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, Facebook, Legal, Social Media/Social Networking, union | Leave a comment
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The NLRB has reached a settlement with Georgia Pacific regarding the Company’s Social Media Policy.  Georgia Pacific’s Social Media Policy had prohibited employees from sharing “personal information” such as wages/compensation, hours, and other “terms and conditions of employment.”  Georgia Pacific must now post a notice, approved by the Regional Director of the NLRB, telling the Company’s employees about their rights to:

1.  Form, joint or assist a union;

2.  Choose a representative to bargain with Georgia Pacific on the employee’s behalf;

3.  Act together with other employees for the employees’ benefit and protection;

4.  Choose not to engage in any of these protected activities.

Take a look at the notice that must be posted:  http://www.local1097.org/index_htm_files/NLRB.pdf

Georgia Pacific must also post information that it will NOT issue policies that interfere with the employees’ right to share information relating to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment with other employees, including on social media sites.

Social Media issues continue to be a hot topic, evolving it seems on a weekly basis.  Take out your policy, review the policy, and examine how far your policy goes in limiting the information employees can share.

The above is not legal advice nor is this posting the creation of an attorney client relationship between the Sensenig Law Firm and the reader.

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Manatee County Teacher who posted unflattering comments about a student on Facebook is not disciplined by the Florida Department of Education

August 11, 2012 at 1:39 am | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, Facebook, Legal, Social Media/Social Networking, union | Leave a comment

The Florida Department of Education has declined to apply discipline to Lauren Orban, the Manatee County Music Teacher who made snarky comments on her personal Facebook page regarding a student in her class.  The Manatee County Superintendent, Tim McGonegal, had previously asserted that teachers were governed 24/7 by the amorphous  Teacher Code of Conduct such that Ms. Orban’s conduct could be sanctionable.  This author respectfully disagrees that someone’s status as a teacher means they can’t ever be frustrated with a student, or that they can never think an unflattering thought about a student.  Ms. Orban made a poor judgment call in sharing work related comments with social network “friends”, not all of whom were necessarily inclined to keep her comments confidential.  While the First Amendment does not usually apply to your employer’s premises, this writer would argue it does apply to a personal web page created during personal time and accessed and used during non-work hours.

It is significant that the Manatee County School Board does not currently have in place a social media policy.  This lack of a policy could have had an impact on the DOE’s decision not to assess discipline against Ms. Orban; without a policy in place to provide guidance to teachers, teachers are not aware of the rules that could be applied to their personal web usage – on their own personal time.

In this case, Ms. Orban was disciplined by her Principal.  The matter was thought to have been resolved at that level, but the student’s Mother was unhappy with what she perceived to be a lack of punishment for Ms. Orban.  Publicity ensued, a report was made to DOE, and the DOE  just recently refused to further sanction any of the teachers involved in making the Facebook comments.  For want of a social media, a child was embarrassed, a teacher’s reputation was harmed, and a School District was maligned.

This unfortunate situation shows the need for employers – public and private sector – to have clearly defined policies as to the employer’s guidelines – and prohibitions – when using social media.

For more information, please refer to the recent Sarasota Herald Tribune article:

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20120808/ARTICLE/120809646

Also see ABC 7’s site for an article and an interview with me on this topic:

http://www.mysuncoast.com/content/topstories/story/What-you-can-safely-say-on-social-media/aOaZBBBvAUqDK_gmqpyS1g.cspx

 

 

Manatee County School Board in News Again For Teacher Facebook Comment Problems

July 10, 2012 at 12:22 am | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, Facebook, Social Media/Social Networking, union | Leave a comment

The last time Manatee County’s School Board was in the news it was due to a teacher’s comments on Facebook about allegedly being inebriated, including alleged profanity Facebook style.  See my prior October 2010 and January 2011 blog postings.  Challenges were filed regarding the disciplinary action attempted, and the parties agreed to settle their differences outside of the administrative process.  The Manatee County School Board said then it would attempt to draft policies about Facebook use by teachers and staff; those policies were never issued.  This author hypothesizes that it was just too difficult to come to  consensus on a policy that balanced the privacy rights of teachers with the School Board’s asserted duty to uphold their Handbook policies and the various codes and statutes that govern teacher conduct.

Manatee County is again in the news because a music teacher in Manatee County, Ms. Lauren Orban, recently made disparaging comments on her Facebook page about one of her second grade students.  The teacher’s friends on her Facebook page, including fellow teachers, joined in the conversation.  One of these Facebook friends provided copies of the conversation to the administration at Ms. Orban’s school.  At some point, the media learned of the incident and now the student’s parent is calling for Ms. Orban’s termination.   Ms. Orban has been reported to Florida’s Department of Education for additional inquiry into whether her conduct violates the very broad Teacher Code of Conduct.

Manatee County’s School Board is back to the drawing board on the need to create policies that govern Facebook and teachers.  Teachers – and other professionals – have been warned as a matter of good professional practice not to “friend” students or subordinates.  In today’s modern age, students communicate via technology – text, Facebook, or IM – rather than via older more traditional methods like phone trees and fliers.  Teachers of drama or other clubs have found Facebook to be an effective method of communicating with their students as to practices and event reminders.  When creating policies, the District may want to carve out exceptions for this type of “friending” or communication.

In an interview with ABC 7 here in Sarasota, Florida, Manatee County School District Superintendent McGonegal stated that teachers need to be aware that wherever they are, their Facebook postings could be an issue.  This statement is troubling in that I do not think the Manatee County School Board has the right to govern what teachers do or say in the privacy of their own homes behind closed doors, say at 1:30 a.m.?  Teachers, and other public employees, have due process rights in their jobs.  In the private sector here in Florida, an “at-will” employment state, as long as a termination is not based upon a discriminatory reason, an employee can be terminated for no reason at all.  Writing Facebook policies governing private sector employees is a simpler task due to this “at will” status.  Facebook policies reflecting the expansive view expressed by Superintendent McGonegal will likely be met with a challenge from the local teacher’s union as well as civil rights groups.

For more information, go to ABC 7 reporter John McQuiston’s article about the issue, along with my reported comments:

http://www.mysuncoast.com/content/topstories/story/What-you-can-safely-say-on-social-media/aOaZBBBvAUqDK_gmqpyS1g.cspx.

For more information about the series of events at issue, including the actual comments made by Ms. Orban, go to ABC 7 reporter Max Winitz’s article:

http://www.mysuncoast.com/content/topstories/story/Bradenton-teacher-in-hot-water-after-Facebook/Kw8YaII46kyi4U7bys4WAA.cspx.

I will post updates to this story as they occur.

New 2012 Florida Minimum Wage Posting Requirements – and a delay on having to display the new NLRB poster

January 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, FLSA, union, wage & hour | Leave a comment

Happy New Year!  Florida has a new minimum wage, $7.67 per hour.  Florida employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act or Florida’s Minimum Wage Act must post a notice to employees regarding the new wage.  The poster must be placed in a common area frequented by employees for high visibility.  For a free copy of the notice, visit http://www.floridajobs.org/business-growth-and-partnerships/for-employers/display-posters-and-required-notices.
On a more controversial note, unionized AND non-unionized employers subject to NLRB jurisdiction now have until April 30, 2012 to post the NLRA rights poster.  This poster was originally to be posted on January 31, 2012 but now covered employers have until April 30, 2012 to display the poster.
The poster provides a comprehensive list of employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act, including the right for employees to act in concert (to act together) to improve wages and working conditions.  Examples of unlawful employer and union conduct is also provided.  The poster also provides an instruction to employees as to how to contact the NLRB with questions or complaints.

The notice must measure 11 x 17 inches (yes, size matters in this instance), and must be posted in all locations where employee notices are normally posted, including on a company’s intranet or internet site.  No record-keeping or reporting requirements accompany the rule, however, the NLRB may treat any failure to display the poster as an unfair labor practice.  Employers may find the poster at http://www.nlrb.gov/poster.   At some point, the NLRB will also make foreign language versions of the notice available. which foreign language notices are required at workplaces where at least 20% of employees are not English-proficient.
Will there be additional delays as to this posting requirement?  I will keep you posted.

Update on NLRB Social Media and Facebook suit

April 17, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, Legal, Social Media/Social Networking, union | Leave a comment

One of my November blog posts discussed the NLRB filing an action on behalf of an employee dismissed for criticizing her employer on Facebook.  Of importance to this case is the union environment in which the employee worked AND that co-workers joined in the on-line “conversation” to discuss “working conditions.”  The employer in this matter, American Medical Response of Connecticut, had social media policies in place.  The employee was terminated for violating those policies due to the disparaging remarks she made about her supervisor on her Facebook page.  The NLRB alleged the employer’s social media policies were “overly broad”, particularly as they related to concerted activity.

In February of 2011, the NLRB and American Medical Response of Connecticut reached a settlement agreement in which the employer agreed to revise its social media policy to ensure that the policy did not improperly restrict employees from discussing their wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers and others while not at work.  Again, this agreement is predicated on a collective bargaining agreement and the workplace being a union environment.  The employer revised the policy to show that employees would not be disciplined or discharged for engaging in such discussions on social media venues.

To review the actual settlement agreement between the NLRB and American Medical Response of Connecticut, go to:

http://www.minnesotaemploymentlawreport.com/NLRB%20Facebook%20Settlement.pdf

At least we now know social media handbook language that has been pre-approved by the NLRB.  This area of the law will continue to evolve.  With employees having social media at their fingertips via their smart phones, this area of employment law will continue to be hot.

Update on Manatee County School Board v. the Manatee Education Association Social Media DOAH Case

January 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Posted in discrimination, Employee, Employer, Employment Law, harassment, Legal, Social Media/Social Networking, union | Leave a comment

This blog provided information in September and October of 2010 about the Manatee County, Florida School District/School Board’s proposed imposition of a social media policy upon Manatee County School employees.  The Manatee Education Association – the teacher’s union – filed an administrative action with the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings protesting the proposed policy.  The case was scheduled for a hearing in January of 2o11.

In December of 2010, the Manatee School Board  and School District entered into an agreement with Manatee Education Association – the teacher’s union in Manatee County – to “stay” the proceedings before the Department of Administrative Hearings.  Based upon a Joint Motion filed by the parties, the case will be put on hold for a year because:

The parties have since conferred about the issues alleged in the Petition to Invalidate Proposed Rule and foresee that a resolution may be possible. However, settlement discussions between the parties may be ongoing for several months and, depending on whether the proposed rule is altered in the interim, the Petition may be mooted by subsequent changes.

To review the Motion, please use the following link:  http://www.doah.state.fl.us/docdoc/2010/009760/10009760M-121410-15094309.PDF

Resolution instead of a litigation is usually a good idea but in this case I was truly looking forward to see what an administrative law judge would do with a broadly worded and somewhat intrusive social media policy for public employees.  The issue may arise during bargaining between the parties – updates will be posted.  This area of the law continues to evolve; privacy rights must be balanced against an employer’s right to protect its reputation, or brand.

A reader’s review of the above information does not establish an attorney client relationship between the reader and the Sensenig Law Firm, P.A. The above information is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – a study in employment law

December 9, 2010 at 4:01 am | Posted in ADA, discrimination, Employee, Employer, Employment Law, FLSA, harassment, Legal, retaliation, union, wage & hour, Workers' Compensation | 5 Comments
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I am an unabashed fan of the old Rankin/Bass movies.  There is something about the old stop motion fuzzy puppets that sends waves of nostalgia over my usually unsentimental soul.  Watching my favorite holiday movie of all time, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” again last week provided me with a different perspective on this old holiday favorite – an employment lawyer’s perspective.  Please know that this blog is written with love, and a sense of humor.

Rudolph has an obviously different nose from the other reindeer; Rudolph’s nose is red and it glows.   Does Rudolph’s red nose make him a qualified individual with a disability?  Such an inquiry under the new ADA revolves around whether Rudolph’s red nose limits one or more of his major life activities. The potential mitigating factor of Rudolph’s awful black fake nose no longer matters.  Rudolph certainly has a record from birth of having a glowing red nose.  His reindeer training coaches and fellow Santa’s Sleigh trainees certainly regarded Rudolph as having an impairment – and treated him differently as a result by not letting him join in any reindeer games.  Even if Rudolph’s red nose did not materially impact his daily activities, perhaps his depression and post-traumatic stress from the differential treatment would qualify him under the ADA.  Does Santa provide an EAP that Rudolph could access?  Does Santa even offer health insurance benefits such that Rudolph could explore potential surgical correction of his red nose?  At the very minimum, I would think Rudolph could file an EEOC charge based upon being perceived as disabled.

Speaking of perceptions, Hermey the Elf is treated differently by his elf co-workers as a result of expressing his individuality.  There are hints of perceived sexual orientation discrimination due to the fastidious hairstyle and detectable lisp.  Sexual orientation discrimination is actionable in several counties in Florida, and quite possibly in the North Pole.  Does Hermey have an Oncale claim due to male on male discrimination and harassment?  Perhaps a claim under Title VII or the Florida Civil Rights Act is in order?  Hermey is treated differently by the Elf who I deem the Union Steward Elf and denied his breaks so perhaps a Union grievance requesting a new Steward is in order?  Does the Collective Bargaining Agreement specify breaks, and is Hermey being denied his rights under the CBA?  As a toy maker, is Hermey entitled to overtime pay due to having to work more than 40 hours in a workweek based upon his employer’s seasonal production demands?  Or does toy making qualify under the Artistic exemption to the FLSA?

Santa also appears to have some management style issues.  His employees gather to perform for him, as instructed by management and Santa, and Santa abruptly cuts them off.  The Union Steward  Elf may be filing a grievance against Santa for his refusal to engage in good faith bargaining about performances and toy production.  Santa needs to read “Good to Great” and “Blink” to have a better idea as to how to properly hire his management team, and manage and motivate his workforce.  Santa should consider signing up his leadership team for some team-building exercises.  Anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training – with Santa present – is warranted.

Gender discrimination is very obvious throughout the movie by the fact that Clarice and the other does are separated from the young bucks in the reindeer games – why can’t girl reindeer fly?  After all, Vixen is on Santa’s team.  Thank you Vixen for breaking that glass ceiling!  Direct evidence of gender discrimination is shown by the remark from Rudolph’s Father Donner that Clarice and Rudolph’s Mother cannot go looking for Rudolph in the snow storm because it’s much too dangerous “for girls”.

Need I discuss the Island of Misfit Toys?  Toys perceived as disabled are sent off to live far away from their able-bodied colleagues in a most discriminatory fashion.  Each toy sadly tells its tale of why the toy is different, and bemoans the fact that “no child wants to play with them” like they play with normal non-disabled toys.  I picture a seven-figure jury verdict here……

The Abominable Snow Monster, affectionately called “The Bumble” is either the poster-child for successful anger management or rehabilitation programs, or is the victim of national origin and religious discrimination due to his following the rituals of his ancestors and eating deer meat.  As a result of his religious practices, The Bumble is then subjected to harassment and even maiming due to discrimination.  His conforming to the standards of others is presented in a positive manner due to his participation in the tree lighting ceremony, but is he participating out of fear of further retaliation?  All of his teeth were pulled, what physical torture could result out of further practicing his sacred rites?

Donner suffered injuries while in the cave of The Bumble.  Was Donner’s search for Rudolph – conducted with the consent and approval of Santa – within the course and scope of employment such that a workers’ compensation claim could be filed against Santa’s Workshop?  Or was the trip to the known hazardous area surrounding The Bumble’s cave outside of Santa’s instructions such that a frolic and detour could be alleged?

While Santa comes around to recognizing the hard work of his employees at the end of the movie, you have to wonder if his change of heart is due only to the fact that the Christmas Eve Special Project assignment was successfully completed.  Santa needs to recommit to ensuring a discrimination and harassment free environment to comply with his Workshop’s mission statement of bringing joy and happiness to all.

I plan to sing along with Sam the Snowman, a.k.a. Burl Ives, clutching my cup of hot cocoa – and cup of cheer – as I watch Rudolph again this year.  I assure you I will enjoy every single politically incorrect moment.

Happy Holidays!

Chris Sensenig

The National Labor Relations Board files a complaint based on Facebook comments – with the NLRB entering the mix, will a ruling alter social media/social networking policies in the private or public sector?

November 10, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Posted in ADA, discrimination, Employee, Employer, harassment, Legal, New employment laws/amendments, Social Media/Social Networking, union | Leave a comment
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The National Labor Relations Board – “NLRB” – has taken up the cause of a Connecticut employee who was fired after making a post on her Facebook page.  The employee in question used some vulgar language when making comments about her supervisor, and then maligned the supervisor’s psychiatric state by using one of her Company’s codes for a psychiatric patient in her post: “Love how the company allows a 17 to become a supervisor.”  The termination caught the NLRB’s attention as the employee suggested she posted the criticism because the supervisor in question would not let a union representative prepare a response to a customer’s complaint regarding work she had done for the customer.

The company at issue, American Medical Response, took the proactive step of having a policy in place governing conduct Facebook and other social media/social networking sites.  I regularly advise my clients to have such policies in place as having rules in place reduces confusion later – and protects one’s brand and reputation in the cyberspace community.

The NLRB argues that the Company’s policy is overly broad.  Even more interesting is the NLRB’s theory that the Company’s policy violates the National Labor Relations Act’s prohibition against punishing employees for engaging in or soliciting discussions about working conditions or unionization.  A lawyer for the NLRB likened the Facebook posting to a “water cooler discussion among co-workers.”  Is Facebook analogous to the public square such that the protections of the NLRA apply?  Is it ever acceptable to hurl insults at one’s supervisor and expect no repercussions?  Does the inquiry change if the employee in question had her privacy settings set so that the general public could not see her posts?  Does commenting on a supervisor’s mental health status implicate the employer’s anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policies or perhaps the ADA?  Would the decision be different in a state such as Florida where we have a constitutional right to privacy guaranteed by Florida’s State Constitution?  Does the First Amendment come into play considering the comment was likely made on the employee’s own time?

To aid in framing the discussion, the NLRB provides guidance as to when Facebook comments lose protected concerted activity status under the NLRA.  Where is this guidance found?  On the NLRB’s Facebook page!  The NLRB states that a four point test applies: (1) the place of the discussion; (2) the subject matter of the discussion; (3) the nature of the employee’s outburst; and (4) whether the outburst was, in any way, provoked by an employer’s unfair labor practice.

Employers would be wise to review their social media and social networking policies for overreaching in light of the NLRB’s stance. The bigger picture question is whether a successful action by the NLRB results in employee rants, however vulgar,  being deemed protected activity under the NLRA?  While it is unlikely that protection will be found for an employee’s publicly ridiculing of a supervisor and suggesting that the supervisor was mentally unstable, stranger things have happened when dealing with the NLRB.

A hearing on the NLRB complaint is currently scheduled for January 25, 2011.  Updates will be provided on this blog.  You can also check out the NLRB’s Facebook page for updates on the issue as well:  http://www.facebook.com/NLRBpage.

A reader’s review of the above information does not establish an attorney client relationship between the reader and the Sensenig Law Firm, P.A. The above information is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

Manatee County Drama Teacher Suspended for Classroom AND Social Media & Social Networking Issues

October 31, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, Legal, New employment laws/amendments, Social Media/Social Networking, union | Leave a comment
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My last few blogs have been on the Manatee County School District’s desire to implement a broad and potentially chilling social media/social networking policy governing the on-line behavior of teachers on and off the job.  There’s a case pending before DOAH challenging the proposed social media/social networking policy but while that matter is pending, the School Board has started proceedings to terminate a drama teacher, partially based on postings found on the teacher’s Facebook page.  The teacher, Charles Willis, “friended” over 100 current students and posted comments that could be viewed by all his “friends”, including posts regarding drinking too much, and posts which referenced popular internet abbreviations that usually include profanity, such as “WTF” and “LMFAO.”  Other allegations are being made regarding Mr. Willis but the notion that the complaint against Mr. Willis includes numerous references to his virtual life as posted on Facebook makes this an interesting matter from the employment law perspective.

The Herald Tribune in Sarasota has written several articles on Mr. Willis and the actions of the Manatee County School District, which links are provided below:

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20101021/ARTICLE/10211054

The Herald Tribune also provided a link to the allegations being alleged against Mr. Willis such that his ability to continue to teach is in jeopardy:

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20101021/ARTICLE/10211054

Readers, what do you think?  Do you believe teachers should be held to a different standard than other professionals as regards to their on-line communications?  Should a teacher be allowed to “friend” students?  Should teachers be prohibited from communicating with students for any reason – including extra curricular service clubs or for community service purposes?  Should teachers be restricted in criticizing administration, the School Board, curriculum, or laws regulating education or educators?  How does the First Amendment come into play, or does it?

Tom Lyons, a regular columnist for the Herald Tribune, provided two recent columns on the issues of both the Manatee County School District’s proposed policy and Mr. Willis.

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20100921/COLUMNIST/9211019?p=2&tc=pg

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20101021/ARTICLE/10211054

While I do not necessarily agree with the views expressed by Mr. Lyons, I do think there’s fodder for debate and discussion in both of his columns.  As someone who represents companies and sometimes individuals in employment related disputes, the notion of the blurring of private life vs. public life is regularly blurred and confusion about the “rules” exists on both sides of the table.  Taking the step of having policies in place provides a level playing field but overreaching will result in morale issues, some of which may be insurmountable.

Gentle readers, I look forward to your thoughts on these very current issues.  Times are changing, how we communicate and interact with each other is changing too – should we focus on how to address those changes or should we be the proverbial ostriches with our heads in the sand?

I will continue to provide updates on this issue – and on the rule challenge filed by the teacher’s union related to Manatee County School District’s proposed social media/social networking policy.

A reader’s review of the above information does not establish an attorney client relationship between the reader and the Sensenig Law Firm, P.A. The above information is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

Update on Manatee County School District’s proposed social networking policy

October 26, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Posted in Employee, Employer, Employment Law, Legal, New employment laws/amendments, Social Media/Social Networking, union | 2 Comments
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The Manatee School Board was scheduled to vote Monday October 25th on a controversial social networking policy discussed previously on this blog.  The issue was tabled on Monday due to the Manatee Education Association – the teacher’s union in Manatee County – and Manatee Education Association member Patricia Barber’s filing of a “Petition to Invalidate Rule” with the Department of Administrative Hearings, “DOAH”.   Paragraph 42 of the filed Petition gets to the crux of  the matter:

The Policy gives the District unbridled discretion: (i) to discipline employees in whatever manner it pleases, regardless of the severity of the conduct; (ii) to violate Chapter 447, Fla. Stat. by determining appropriate discipline without collective bargaining, as required by law; (iii) to identify conduct, without any articulated standard, which the District deems inappropriate or in violation of the Policy at its sole discretion; (iv) to determine the meaning of vague and undefined Policy terms, such as “inappropriate statements,” “inappropriate communications,” and “offensive documents,” among others; to discretionarily deem materials “offensive” or “inappropriate”, even though discipline would result from this whim; (v) to regulate and punish, without limitation, the content of District employees’ private email communications and internet postings made on their own time, from their home computers, and from private operated servers; (vi) to discipline employees for engaging in aspects of their private lives protected by Art. I., s. 23, Florida Constitution (“Right to Privacy”), for which freedom from government intrusion is constitutionally guaranteed; (vi) to discipline employees for exercising speech on matters of public concerns, contrary to Art. I, s. 4, Florida Constitution, and the First Amendment, U.S. Constitution; and (vii) to engage in searches of employee property which may violate Art. I, s. 12, Florida Constitution and the Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution.  The foregoing list is not exhaustive.”

Go to the following address for a copy of the entire Petition:  http://www.doah.state.fl.us/docdoc/2010/009760/10009760M-101910-12273827.PDF.  If the link or address does not work, you can search for the case on DOAH’s website using the case number, 10-9760RP at http://www.doah.state.fl.us.  The Manatee County School Board’s proposed social networking/social media policy is attached as an exhibit to the Petition.  There’s definitely some interesting reading here!

As written, the proposed policy could be broadly construed as permitting discipline against teachers in Manatee County for making negative or offensive comments on public policy issues on social media sites, including but not limited to Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  Private sector employers regularly restrict employee’s speech regarding the employer, the employer’s workforce, the employer’s clients, and essentially, the employer’s brand.  The difference here is that public sector employees are being subjected to restrictions on potentially private speech; speech that they are likely protected to make under Article I, §23 of the Florida Constitution:

Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein. This section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.

The Manatee School District is a governmental entity so unlike private employers, Florida’s Constitutional Right to Privacy should apply to actions by the School District.  The Manatee County School District denies trying to govern private communication and instead reiterates that teachers are bound by a Code of Ethics and the social networking policy simply reminds teachers that the Code of Ethics may apply to such communication.

Until DOAH hears the matter, the Manatee County School District will delay voting on the policy.  A hearing before DOAH is currently scheduled for November 19th.  Stay tuned for updates!

For additional information about the policy and the School District’s meeting, read Natalie Neysa Alund’s article found in the Bradenton Herald:  http://www.bradenton.com/2010/10/26/2682453/noles-logo-proposal-still-unsettled.html.

A reader’s review of the above information does not establish an attorney client relationship between the reader and the Sensenig Law Firm, P.A. The above information is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

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