This article is part of an on-going, social media series.
Any good comedian knows you must tailor the joke for the crowd. The same approach is true in the work environment. A supervisor might comment on a football team cheerleading squad in different ways to his bar buddies than he would to a subordinate at work. Unfortunately, to a large extent, Facebook and other social media outlets do not provide the tools by which to discriminate which joke gets told to what audience. This can lead to many pitfalls for employers.
If a supervisor’s sexually inappropriate jokes told around the water cooler at work could result in legal liability for the employer, then it is likely a bad idea for the supervisor to send Facebook messages to subordinates with the same inappropriate jokes. In fact, according to one recent survey, nearly 50 percent of employees felt uncomfortable when “friended” by subordinates, co-worker peers, and/or their supervisors. It’s easy to understand why.
Suppose A posts pictures of herself at the beach in a bikini. What if B, A’s supervisor, is Facebook friends with A and comments to A in a work email about how great A looks in her swimsuit? This use of social media could create a hostile work environment and lead to a discrimination action.
Supervisors and employees should be reminded that federal and state non-discrimination statutes can apply to communications between an employee and his or her coworker or supervisor done during non-work hours and online, not just in person at the office.
Carrie Pixler, an associate with Fennemore Craig and a member of the firm’s Litigation Section, co-authored this story.