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An emerging issue in employment law within the hospitality industry is the role and influence of social media. A concern related to this emerging matter is the duties employers of addressing concerns raised by employee postings in social media. According to Newson, Houghton, and Patten, employee postings are protected forms of free speech. As such employees are allowed to post to a vast audience their views and feelings about a multitude of issues including their employer. It is worth noting that, companies vary in the way in which they monitor employee postings, with some employers actively monitoring social media sites as part of their risk management programs. Others do not monitor their operatives’ posts unless a matter is brought to their attention by a third party. However, employers usually monitor employees’ social media postings to find out if their positive online image is maintained and also comply with outlined antidiscrimination laws. This paper discusses a court case (Pietrylo v. Hillstone Restaurant Grp 2008) that addresses the influence of social media on employment laws within hospitality and explains the creation of a policy to address the proliferation of social media apps.
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Pietrylo v. Hillstone Restaurant Grp, 2008
In this case, Brian Pietrylo together with Doreen Marino filed a court case against their ex-employer, Hillstone Restaurant Group for terminating them under the pretext of demoralizing their employees by their posts on the private group on MySpace. The two created the private and password-protected MySpace group as a platform for airing their complaints against their employer. Other employers, apart from the managers could join the group. However, at some point one of the restaurant’s group managers learned of the site together with its somehow profane contents through one of the group members. This manager told another manager and the two of them requested by use of threats the employee’s login ID and PIN to the site. Eventually, the employee availed the information to the managers, who went ahead and logged into the site for some time. Later these managers fired the creator and one other for her posts that the employer deemed as damaging the morale of employees and in violation of the “core values” held by the restaurant.
The court ruled for Brian Pietrylo together with Doreen Marino on two reckonings. The first count on the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) and the second was a public assertion for the invasion of confidentiality. On the SCA, the employer was not an authorized user of the site as he gained to the site through coercing an employee. Under the invasion of confidentiality claim, the plaintiff had a judicious expectancy of privacy which the defendant violated. The expectation of the fired employees was that the site would remain confidential with those accessing it being the ones expressly invited. The take in this case, is that, employers are not to log into or access their employees’ social media sites under deception or through strong-arming another employee to gift them an access that they would not otherwise obtain. This case also warns of the consequences of using the information gathered from employee social networking sites to discipline or terminate employees.
From this case, employers within the hospitality sector should cautiously think through the jeopardies of discretion invasion claims linked with gaining facts from social interaction sites and consider the probable legal responsibilities in grounding employment act resolutions on non-work activities. Additionally, employment law gives employers certain obligations and rights with relation to company-related PC equipment and microelectronic sites. However, this law does not allow companies to extend their authority to equipment and sites not related to work. Even though employees are protected from discrimination and intimidation by their employees based on the social networking sites postings, the employment law does not protect employees who reveal the company’s secrets of trade or make threats of violent behavior. According to Appel, these behaviors are not “concerted activities” that demand protection.
Policy Change to Address Proliferation of Social Media Apps
According to Newson et al., the proliferation of social media apps has resulted in an increase in personnel using social networking technologies in the on-duty and off-duty subsists. The greatest harm caused by the escalation in social media applications is on the reputation of the company as employees use them to vent things that would get them in trouble and tarnish the employers’ reputation. As such, I recommend a policy that balances between the employer’s freedom of speech against the desire of maintaining as protected and safe work environment. Intrinsically, this guiding principle ensures that the apps the employees engage in are free of inappropriate or derogatory comments or materials that affect the workplace. Additionally, this course of action will inform employees of what they can and what they cannot post on social media apps. This procedure will also make clear to the employees that their right to privacy is limited, and that the employer has a vested interested in seeing to it that their civil rights meet integrity requirements and law requests on privacy and confidentiality.
Naturally, employers often monitor their employees’ social media postings to comply with antidiscrimination laws and to determine if their positive online image is maintained. In the hospitality industry, a service prodder’s positive online image contributes to its reputation in the community. Negative comments by in social media by the service provider’s employees may not only cause a reputational harm but may influence customers not to use the service provider’s services. A reduction in customers may have serious financial consequences for the hospitality services provider. Similarly, employers have a duty to address discriminatory and harassing conduct that had a bearing on the workplace, even if such a conduct is outside the workplace setting. The response the employer takes in dealing with employee postings on social media sites should be those contained in the employer’s policies and procedures concerning social media.
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