Holding Educational Employees Accountable for Responsible Use of Social Media

The use of social media by teachers and other school employees can have positive effects on the educational environment.  For example, social media can promote collaboration among teachers, and can provide an effective means of communication between teachers and parents.  However, educational employers have also found that access to social media during the workday can lead to decreased employee productivity.  When employees use social media to disparage their school district, supervisors, or even their peers, there is a negative impact on the District’s public image and workforce morale.  Serious acts of criminal conduct, such as stalking, child pornography and violent threats are also possible outcomes of employee use of social media.  All of these issues create potential liability for school employers.  While there is no way that a school employer can eliminate all potential liability, employers can take certain steps which will allow them to more effectively deal with these issues.

Understand Legal Boundaries – Search and Seizure

A public employer’s ability to conduct a search of an employee for work-related purpose hinges on whether there was a “reasonable expectation of privacy”   In regard to social media use at work, employers can limit an employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy by writing clear policies that specifically address use of the District’s network and District owned devices (despite the fact that employees might have passwords on these devices and use them to exchange personal communications), as well as when employees are using personal technology for work purposes.

In the leading case, City of Ontario v. Quon (2010) 130 S. Ct. 2619, sexually explicit, personal text messages that were sent on a city-owned pager by a police officer were found during a work-related audit.  The police officer was subsequently disciplined.  The Supreme Court found there was no reasonable expectation of privacy to these text messages, because the city had an Acceptable Use Policy that provided that all network activity, including email and internet use, could be monitored.

Adopt Updated Social Media Policies and Enforce Them

In addition to its Acceptable Use Policy for employee usage of District technology, a district should also develop sound social media policies.  These policies need to be clear and easily understood by employees.  The policies should be regularly updated to address new developments in technology and social media and to fit the specific needs of the district.  The best policies will include provisions that state the use of social media technology during work hours is for employment and educational purposes, and they will explicitly limit an employee’s expectation of privacy on District equipment and networks.  Let us know if you need assistance in drafting or reviewing such policies.

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