Chipotle has suffered for an extended period of time as health scares plagued it after several of its locations literally had to close their doors for a period of time. The illnesses that appeared to have been contracted by Chipotle customers in those stores/restaurants were severe in many cases. Of course, that caused the Chipotle chain to suffer whether there had been similar health scare issues or not. While that was happening, Chipotle also was becoming involved in another potential legal case involving social media. An employee tweeted negative comments about Chipotle on Twitter and was subsequently terminated by the company. A National Labor Relations judge has ruled that the termination was improper and ordered the former employee to be reinstated. We don’t know what the comments were in a specific sense but it is becoming more and more obvious that employers need to be very careful, especially as they make their way through the new issues posed by social media.
The waters have been muddied.
What we thought was ironclad before is not necessarily being viewed in a similar manner in this ‘new world’ of social media.
There appears to be a more lenient view of what is actually free speech and of what might be actionable language; if not more lenient, then certainly more problematic as the social media world’s issues are further legally defined.
The Chipotle example, at the least, lets employers know there needs be some further thought given to reprimands that might be considered, especially where social media is involved. This might well prove to be a topic worthy of some legal review expenditures if there are unresolved issues in your workplace that involve social media.
The phrase ‘cut and dried’ does not appear to apply to the legal environment surrounding social media and its use/abuse in the workplace. It is, in these kinds of cases, better to be wary than sorry as we watch the new social media world unfold and take shape. It is certainly a double-edged sword. While it probably goes without saying, we’ll say it to be safe: contact your legal counsel and be sure you are in the proper and defensible place with regard to social media policy in your organization.
Alan Campbell, Account Executive