Social Mediand Health Care Employers

On Behalf of | Jan 22, 2016 | Firm News |

The expanding nature of my professional licensing, administrative law practice requires  me to evaluate all forms of social mediand my use of texting and email.  I affirmatively chose to not engage in group texts, emails, Facebook, Snapchat, and/or Instagram.  My emails are legally oriented and do not espouse personal opinions of the prosecutors, witnesses, opposing counsel, or any judge before whom I practice.  My blogs, this blog, is where I espouse my legal opinion as to current social conduct and legal norms as they intersect with the legal issues my professional clients, aspiring or otherwise, confront.

However, many clients are confronted with their employer’s social media policies that potentially in fringe on their legal and privacy rights.  Employment based disciplinary policies relating to social mediare independent of, and incorporated throughout, health care employment manuals.  These employment contract policies, while vague, are extremely strict and prohibitive in nature as they pertain to group texts and emails, not just Facebook, Instagram, or Snapshat, involving medical students, interns, and residents.

Disciplinary protocols for violating vague social media policies are becoming a huge area of concern.  Recently I was contacted by a third year medical student of a prominent local residency program.  He was suspended for twenty nine days for violating his hospital’s email and texting policy.  The policy, derived from a combined reading of the hospital’s sexual harassment/disruptive behavior guidelines and Social Media Policy, is startling.  Content restrictions, whether on personal or work smart phones, limit any communication associating the hospital, any activity during work hours, and must conform to the hospital’s over arching goals against “intimidation and disruptive behavior.”   What is that?

Surprisingly, the policy/rules inform all residents there is NO expectation of privacy to any blog, email, text (group or otherwise), or other social media post. Violations are based upon conduct that may “tarnish the reputation or brand of the residency program”.  Any communication must not suggest, in any manner, a relationship to or on behalf of the hospital. The policy also states if any form of social media is created in the future and not mentioned herein, these rules apply.
Obviously sexual harassment of any sort warrants discipline.  But discipline predicated upon “private” conversations on a multi-person group chat (twenty) of the appropriateness of a new chief resident, not conducted in any denigrating fashion, is startling.   Conditioning employment on NO EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY and no DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR (again — what is this?) is extreme.
Hospital administrators and residency program managers are running scarred trying to calm the herd of cats under their managerial umbrella.  Hard working, pent up smart medical students are now not allowed to have any opinion about any aspect of their medical training program, let alone voice that opinion in a private email to anyone.  Such will be interpreted as disruptive for which there is no privacy right.
Similar to the sixties, these institutions are now enforcing a no-voice of dissent policy. Targeted to any potential anonymous blogger, micro chatter, texter, or group chatter, dissension, opinion, and personality are being searched out and disciplined.  The right to be enrolled in these programs does not include complete and unfettered right of free speech.  Upon enrollment, residents, employees, interns, and licensed medical and nurse practitioners are being told to stop talking, criticizing, commenting, discussing anything about their employer.
Medical residents, staff doctors, union or non-union nursing staff, admitted practitioners, and just about any other licensee practicing their medical profession in the orbit of the local hospital must be aware of these entities’ manuals, practices, and social media policies and how they are being applied.  Unilateral enforcement of these contract provisions (meaning the doctor or resident can’t due the hospital for talking bad about them) limits negotiating strength, employment security, or admission rights to that hospital.
Keep you opinions to yourself.  Do not include ANY inappropriate comment (whatever that is) about any person, thing, policy, or practice in group text or email, facebook, instagram, Snapchat.  The people and departments enforcing the entity’s new media policies are not from this decade or century.  Their interpretation of “what is fair and proper” is not the same as the young resident, intern, or doctor.