When the Boss Speaks Out...

When the Boss Speaks Out...

 One of the great challenges for employers is to draft and to enforce policies dealing with communications and social media which actually achieve the desired result. The tension between enforcing a mother's admonition of not saying anything if there is nothing nice to say with the NLRB's broad interpretation of concerted, protected activity where you can say something that is not necessarily nice makes creating such a policy extremely challenging. Perhaps the leading example, at least of a policy "approved" by the Division of Advice is Boeing's code of conduct. A portion of the code states, "Employees will not engage in conduct or activity that may raise questions as to the company's honesty, impartiality, reputation or otherwise cause embarrassment to the company."

What happens when the "boss" engages in conduct that for an employee would be unprotected and a violation of the applicable policy?  There have two recent incidents which highlight the problem. The first incident involved the statements of the president of a major university concerning the conduct of Catholic priests. The statement was to the effect that while the priests are holy on Sunday, they are holy hell the rest of the week, and one cannot trust the "damn" Catholics on Thursday and Friday. Statements were also made about other athletic conferences and the lack of quality educational standards at another university. The board of trustees sent a letter to the president reprimanding him for the remarks and cautioning that repetition could cost him his job. The president subsequently apologized for his remarks.

The second incident involved the head of a financial lending institution who tweeted concerning reports that another company was moving its headquarters from suburban Detroit to Atlanta. The tweet called the company's CEO a "punk" and referred to the company's board of directors as "invertebrate."  He also referenced the company's poor economic performance over the last five years. In a follow up interview, the head of the company did not apologize and elaborated on his tweet.

The two incidents provide two different approaches to the response--apologize or not. Perhaps the best approach when the boss speaks out is to remind everyone, including the boss, of the applicable policy and to refer them to an excellent article in Forbes which highlights the six things things that should not be done on social media in light of the Amy's Baking social media fiasco. Rule 5 is don't insult people.

For additional Labor and Employment law insights from John Holmquist, visit the Michigan Employment Law Connection.

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