Employees of Delaware’s capital may soon be subject to a social-networking policy. The City of Dover has proposed a new policy on employees’ on-duty and off-duty use of social-media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, reports The News Journal.
According to The News Journal, the policy prohibits on-the-job use of social-networking sites, like Facebook. Off the clock, employees would be prohibited from “posting disparaging comments about co-workers, their bosses, or members of the public” with whom they interact during the course of their jobs. The policy also prohibits employees from making racist statements or “negative comments” based on other legally protected characteristics and from “promoting” illegal activity, illegal drug use or violence.
Before being implemented, the policy first must be approved by the City Council. The usual objections have been raised by Councilman Bill McGlumphy, who claims that employees’ off-the-clock activities are not the City’s concerns. Councilman David Anderson raised the “free-speech” objection, apparently on the basis that the policy’s language is overly broad. Similar objections were voiced in response to the social-networking policy proposed by Kent County, Delaware in May 2011.
The current trend of litigation over social-media policies has been limited to policies that violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). But the NLRA does not apply to public employers. For state and city governments, the First Amendment is the hurdle that must be crossed. Although the First Amendment does guarantee employees some rights of free speech, those rights become limited when employees work for the government.
Navigating the boundaries between employee speech that can and cannot be limited is not easy.