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Employees, their relatives and social media – where is the line?

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The 76ers are in the spotlight again following recent posts on the Twitter account of Bob Muscala, the father of one of its players.

Earlier this year, we wrote a blog about the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers who, at the time, were embroiled in a controversy surrounding its (now previous) General Manager and his involvement in social media accounts that had been releasing confidential information about the team’s players.

The 76ers are in the spotlight again following recent posts on the Twitter account of Bob Muscala, the father of one of its players. The posts made by Mr Muscala relate to the race of another NBA player and have been described by the 76ers as ‘inappropriate and offensive social media posts’.

In response to the comments, the 76ers issued a dual statement from its General Manager, Elton Brand, as well as Mr Muscala’s son, Mike Muscala. In the statement, the club condemned the posts made by Mr Muscala and confirmed that they are ‘in no way reflect of the beliefs of our organization’. Mike Muscala also apologised to the public and to the 76ers for his father’s social media posts.

This ordeal raises some interesting questions about what obligations employers have (if any) to monitor and address social media accounts of people beyond just their employees.

Many organisations have welcomed the growing influence of social media and utilise it as a tool for marketing their brand and engaging with their clients and customers. Indeed, many organisations have designated employees who monitor and control their organisation’s online presence.

As a result, many employers now have policies in place that seek to regulate how their employees use social media, particularly when they are representing their employer or may be seen to be representing their employer.

But how does (or should) an employer react to media or social media posts that might affect their organisation when they are made by people who are not employees and whose behaviour they cannot seek to regulate?

Generally speaking, employers need to consider what interests are at stake and whether it is best to ignore the social media posts or address them. Even though they may not be an employee, is it better to address the posts and confirm the employer’s position in order to protect its reputation?

In many cases, such as in the case of the 76ers, employers should also consider whether any of their employees might be associated with the posts. It is fortunate that in this most recent situation, both the 76ers and Mike Muscala have been able to agree on their appropriate course of action and Mike has confirmed that his values align with those of the organisation, notwithstanding his father’s comments.

Overall, it will be interesting to observe how the fear of social media backlash or negative media commentary will prompt employers to take action on things that are not traditionally part of the employment relationship. Will employers take an increased interest in the personal lives of an employee (such as their family) in assessing whether they are an appropriate ‘fit’ for their organisation so as to mitigate the chances of negative stories being associated with their brand?

 

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog, or from links on this website to any external website. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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