HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

Twitter in the Workplace: 4 Lose Their Jobs, 1 Saved From Death Row

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By Eric B. Meyer

Is there anything that Twitter can’t do?

Twitter, make me a sandwich!

Anyway, today I have the news of three congressional aides who could use a job, a mixed-martial artist whose bosses don’t appreciate tweets about “rape vans,” and a convicted murderer on death row who is going to get a new trial because of a juror’s tweets…

Twitter + Booze Brags = Unemployment

The NW Daily Marker reported last week that three congressional staffers were fired after bashing their boss and discussing on-the-job drinking on Twitter:

Over several months, according to online messages allegedly made by staffers with Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen, the D.C. office of Washington state’s 2nd District has been the setting of a staffers-gone-wild bash, a binge of embarrassing behavior including insults lobbed by legislative aides at the Congressman himself and accounts of on-the-job drinking, all broadcast for the world to see on via Twitter….The messages describe on-the-job drinking, frivolous misuse of office time and resources, and contain public insults aimed at the boss himself – Congressman Larsen.”

Can’t say I blame the Congressman. Although, in certain circumstances, a group of employees who complain about their boss online may be protected from discipline under the theory that their behavior constitutes protected concerted activity. I’ve blogged about this ad nauseum.

Best not to discuss “rape vans” online — or ever

Chad Dundas at ESPN.com writes here about a fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, who crossed the line on Twitter.

[F]ormer WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres got the axe a couple of days after tweeting a one-liner about “rape vans” he reportedly saw on TV. It was the UFC’s third public sexual assault joke in recent memory…

Unlike other sports organizations, the UFC promotes and encourages employee use of Twitter. However, absent some guidelines for employees, that can lead to issues:

When you encourage somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 professional fighters to share their unfiltered thoughts with the masses — Torres has nearly 50,000 followers — in staccato burst of 140 characters or less, mistakes are going to be made. Mistakes that have been committed to writing and will live on forever in the unforgiving elephantine brain of the Internet.

Especially when you offer a cash prize to the fighter who does the “most creative” job.

Especially when there is nothing to tell said fighter what’s permissible and what’s not, no policy or guidelines in place aside from telling him to “use common sense.”

Looks like someone may need a social media policy.

Tweets give a convicted murderer a new trial

Many courts have anti-tweeting rules. But could you imagine a juror’s tweet meaning the difference between life and death?

Suzi Parker at Reuters reported here last week that the Arkansas Supreme Court will give a death-row inmate a new trial because one juror tweeted during court proceedings:

Erickson Dimas-Martinez, 26, was convicted of the murder of Derrick Jefferson, 17, after a robbery in 2010 following a party in northwest Arkansas.

His attorneys appealed that conviction arguing that one juror slept and another one sent tweets although the judge had instructed jurors not to communicate with anyone about the case. The judge specifically instructed jurors not to post on the Internet.

But juror Randy Franco did. According to court documents, Franco tweeted on the day that “all evidence was submitted in the sentencing phase.” The juror tweeted, “Choices to be made. Hearts to be broken. We each define the great line.”

Franco tweeted several times during the case. Dimas-Martinez’ attorneys brought the problem to the judge’s attention. The judge then questioned Franco, who admitted to tweeting.

The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday, “More troubling is the fact that after being questioned about whether he had tweeted during the trial, Juror 2 continued to tweet during the trial.”

Associate Justice Donald Corbin wrote that “prejudice results from the fact that the juror admitted to the misconduct, which proves that he failed to follow the court’s instructions, and it is the failure to follow the law that prejudiced Appellant.”

Attorney Eric Meyer will be leading a group of HR pros in a panel discussion on Social Media in the Workplace – Where is it Today, Where is it Going Tomorrow? at the TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on this event. 

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 .