Social media policies are good to have in place, but as we’ve seen this week, it’s a good idea to review the policy and make sure it has a legal standing. This was not the case for Chipotle, and it landed the company in some legal trouble.
Long story short: An employee posted a tweet about his opinion of his employer, stating that “nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members make only $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really?” He was told that this violated Chipotle’s social media policy, which bans “disparaging, false” statements and was asked to delete it, which he did. While disparaging, it was not deemed false and was in fact a permissible statement to make, although probably not the best tweet to post, especially directed at your employer.
After this, the employee again turned to social media to encourage coworkers to sign a petition regarding employee breaks. He was then fired for doing so.
The case was taken to court, and found that Chipotle’s social media policy was illegal and ordered the company to rehire the employee, provide back pay for lost wages, and post signage that indicates some of their employee policies, especially the social media policy, were illegal.
Why did this happen?
- While Chipotle’s social media policy strictly banned employees from posting false and disparaging content on social media, the judge stated that the content has to be proven to have a malicious intent; in this case, the judge decided it was not malicious in nature. Lesson learned – posting negative or misleading content cannot be the sole basis for violating a social media policy; malicious intent must be proven.
- The social media policy violated an employee’s protected concerted act. Examples of this type of protection include employees talking with management about pay or working conditions, and employees discussing other workplace issues outside of pay among themselves. Circulating a petition was within the employee’s rights in this case, and cannot be deemed a violation of social media policy. Lesson learned – a social media policy cannot be general in nature and must take into account various types of content that may be posted, including those falling within an employee’s protected concerted activity.
Social media policies are important, but we’ve seen that they are being closely scrutinized in the legal world. It’s important to have one in place, but even more important to have one that falls in line with legal issues to save further time and trouble. This is one example of how a social media policy can go wrong; I anticipate other similar suits to follow across the corporate world going forward until the kinks are worked out.