Firefighter's Race-Baiting Rant Renews Questions About Employers' Access to Facebook Pages

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[author: RICHARD D. TUSCHMAN]

Do employers have a right to demand access to their employees’ Facebook pages to ensure employees’ posts do not reflect poorly on their employers? A Miami-Dade firefighter’s race-baiting rant about the Trayvon Martin case - posted on his personal Facebook page - is sparking new interest in this question.

Captain Brian Beckmann’s post, published on the website theGrio.com, criticizes the prosecutor in the George Zimmerman case for political posturing and states that “urban youth” are the products of “failed, sh*tbag, ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents.” Beckmann’s post goes on to say that urban youth are “just misunderstood little church going angels and the ghetto hoodie look doesn't have anything to do with why people wonder if they're about to get jacked by a thug.”

The source of the story apparently had access to Beckmann’s Facebook page and sent a screen shot of his post to theGrio.com. The source expressed concern that the comments reflected "the thoughts of someone who responds to the homes of the very people" being denigrated in the post. The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department is investigating the matter.

For public sector employers like Miami-Dade County, the question of whether employers can demand access to their employees’ Facebook pages is complicated by civil service rules, collective bargaining agreements, and First Amendment rights. But for private sector employers in Florida, no law currently restricts an employers’ right to demand access to their employees’ Facebook pages.

That is not to say that requiring employees to disclose their Facebook passwords is a good idea. An employer’s routine demands to view employees’ Facebook pages would undoubtedly be viewed as heavy-handed and smack of “Big Brother.”

But where an employer has knowledge of discriminatory posts or other online behavior by an employee that reflects badly on their business, demanding access to the employee’s Facebook page may be prudent, and perhaps even necessary, to prevent liability or reputational injury to the employer.

Legislation may change the legal landscape on this issue. Maryland recently passed a bill that prohibits employers from asking applicants and employees for social media account log-ins and passwords. Several other states are considering similar legislation. Florida is not among them, for now, but federal legislation may be on the horizon. We will keep an eye on this fast-moving issue and report on new developments.

 

Published In: Administrative Agency Updates, Labor & Employment Updates, Privacy Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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