While social media has vastly expanded ways of facilitating business, the use of such media also begets legal consequences that businesses should be aware as they utilize these technologies.
Case in point? A chef and restaurant owner recently tweeted a job description similar to the following: Looking for a new cook! Must love abuse and very low pay! I am sure the chef saw some humor in her post, but in an industry under attack for compliance with wage-and-hour laws, it probably wasn’t the wisest tweet to blast to her followers, or into the public domain.
The accusations being made against restaurants include claims of stolen tips, paying employees below the minimum wage, and failing to pay employees for all hours of work. From a PR perspective, any of the chef’s followers with an awareness of the kinds of claims being made against restaurants, whether those claims are true or not, may have been rubbed the wrong way when they read that tweet, possibly resulting in loss of business and even public backlash.
The harm that could be caused by this tweet doesn’t end there though. Should this restaurant and its owner ever find itself on the receiving-end of a lawsuit alleging wage-and-hour violations or claims of discrimination or harassment, “being rubbed the wrong way” is precisely the feeling a plaintiff’s lawyer will try to elicit from the judge and/or jury. Sure, the tweet may be taken out of context, but that won’t stop a plaintiff’s lawyer from using it to bolster his/her client’s case. Don’t believe me? A few weeks ago I received a solicitation for a legal practice guide on how to use social media as evidence and find that “smoking gun tweet.”
Perhaps you’re asking: What about the Fourth Amendment and expectations of privacy? When you publicly post on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social networking site, like the chef in the example above, there is no Fourth Amendment privacy protection. The same is true even if you restrict access to your account to only a select group of people.
Notwithstanding this post’s title, the takeaway of this post is not that businesses or their owners/operators need to cease their online banter. One of the greatest values in social media for any business is the ability to banter with its customers or clients, and I would never suggest that businesses stop doing so. Businesses, however, should always think twice before posting something online.