A recent story from New York raises many employment issues that hit home in Washington. A Hamburg, New York Wal-Mart assistant manager posted an anti-Muslim comment and picture on his Facebook page that got him fired. The man claims that it started off as a joke and then it went wrong. He posted a picture of two Muslim women who were fully covered according to their religious traditions. In his comment he wrote: “Halloween came early this year….” A third party alerted Wal-Mart to the Facebook post and it began investigating the incident. It later fired the assistant manager. The man claims that he made the comments to a post that a friend sent him and was at home, which means it was not on company time and not Wal-Mart’s concern. But Wal-Mart believes that he took the picture and posted while at work which makes it a violation of the company’s hate-speech policy.
Previous posts have covered Washington’s social media law that prohibits employers from asking employees for their social media passwords. It also prohibits employers from asking about the content on social media or forcing employees to “friend” the employer. However, there is an exception in the law that allows employers to gain access if they receive a tip that there is social media content that is either illegal or related to work misconduct. So while, employers cannot ask for passwords or other access to accounts, employees should not feel like what they say on social media will never come to the attention of their employer. If the Wal-Mart assistant manager been in Washington, Wal-Mart would still have gained access because they received a third-party tip about the company policy violating post.
The Wal-Mart employee’s Facebook post was discriminatory but was not directed at another employee so there was no employment discrimination in this case; but it did violate company policy. Company policies can extend discrimination protections beyond that of the laws. Many states, unlike Washington, do not have protections for sexual orientations, yet many employers have added it to their company’s discrimination policies. These policies may also set limits or guidelines on employee conduct. Employers may even make violations of these policies grounds for termination. As in the case of Wal-Mart, employees are prohibited from hate-speech while on company time and violation did result in termination.
Washington State laws and by federal laws, as many people know, prohibit harassment, a hostile workplace, and most types of discrimination in employment. But, fewer are aware that those laws prohibit not only employers and employees from harassing other employees; it also protects employees in many cases from harassment from customers, since this can create a hostile workplace. For this reason, many employers will add anti-discrimination terms into contracts with their customers and clients and many restaurants will reserve the right to deny service for any reason not protected under law.
When it comes to social media, employer policies, and employee terminations, employers and employees can have many questions and concerns. Contacting an experienced Washington employment attorney can help.