HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

What’s Up, Doc? Emergency Room Doctor Fired for Posting Photos on Facebook

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By Eric B. Meyer

Earlier this week, I wrote about a nurse who was fired and denied unemployment compensation benefits because, instead of medicating a patient, she was busy posting Facebook updates about a colleague who had soiled herself.

Oy!

But that’s nothing compared to the New England emergency room doctor who was fired for posting pictures of a patient on her Facebook page.

When will people every learn?

Was it a HIPAA violation?

Christopher Danzig at Above the Law reported the story last week:

Last week, an emergency room doctor in Rhode Island got reprimanded and fined $500 by the state medical board. (She had been fired from her hospital last year.)

Why? She posted information about a patient on Facebook….

Dr. Alexandra Thran, who worked at Westerly Hospital, “did not include the patient’s name, but she wrote enough that others in the community could identify the patient,” according to the Boston Globe.

Regulators in Rhode Island said Thran’s case is the first time they’ve had to deal with a physician inappropriately using social media. The Massachusetts medical board has never had to deal with it, according to the article, but it has been a problem in other parts of the country.

The Above The Law article further notes that Dr. Thran may have violated HIPAA by publishing the personal health information of an ER patient. Although not discussed in the article, Dr. Thran’s transgressions may have also exposed the hospital to potential liability.

Could this have all been avoided?

School employees on social media responsibility

I’ve posted ad nausem about why businesses need to have social media policies. But don’t just take my word on it. On Monday, I read this article at Mashable by Maria Ogneva. Ms. Ogneva is the Head of Community at Yammer, where she is in charge of social media, community programs, internal education and engagement.

Ms. Ogneva notes that, because employees are going to use social media, two of the most important steps to protect your business — other than having a social media policy — is to understand employees’ facility with social tools and to then educate them about proper social networking. This does not have to be a draconian employer-versus-employee process, but it does require that the business take a hands-on approach to social networking.

As with any other policy that an employer promulgates, the most effective policies are those that are reasonable and are paired with training such that employees ultimately understand what is expected of them.

Finally, Ms. Ogneva suggests addressing social media problems “proactively and gently.” According to Ms Ogneva:

There will be things that go awry. It’s always better to politely point out the problematic tweet or blog comment in private. Most people want to do the right thing even if they make mistakes. Identify problem areas for your organization and create additional guidance around them.”

Let the punishment fit the crime

It sounds like the hospital did the right thing by terminating Dr. Thran. But, too often, the social media firings we read about online involve employers who overreact.

Let the “punishment” fit the crime. Often, there are many less egregious employee-social-media faux pas that employers can address with a warning and simple request to delete or correct the mistake.

If nothing less, it will keep you out of the headlines — for the wrong reasons.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

Eric B. Meyer is a partner in the Labor and Employment Group of the Philadelphia-based law firm of Dilworth Paxson LLP . He dedicates his practice to litigating and assisting employers on labor and employment issues affecting the workplace, including collective bargaining, discrimination, employee handbook policies, enforcement of restrictive covenants, and trade secret protection. Eric also serves as a volunteer mediator for the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Contact him at emeyer@dilworthlaw.com .