Dealing With Negativity on Staff Social Media Accounts

You have legal recourse to put an end to negative online behavior from staff members.

You may have seen that recently, police departments and law-enforcement unions are issuing warnings and offering social media training to members, hoping to stop a recent tide of offensive posts by police officers and other employees. There’s apparently been a wide range of controversial posts, from disgruntled employees complaining about policies, to threats, and even some racists comments.

This made me think about what’s being posted by employees of churches and nonprofit organizations.

There have been numerous cases where church or ministry employees complained online about their pastor’s message, a particular church policy or other employees. Whatever the reason, it’s not a positive thing—particularly when they’re seen by the general public. It tends to toss the biblical concept of unity out the window when local communities see church employees complain, disrespect or criticize the church or its leaders.

A number of major churches and ministry organizations have a social media policy in place, but not many. Besides, are they legal? Can a church censor those posts or fire the employee? What about freedom of speech?

I asked my friend David Middlebrook, a highly respected attorney who focuses on church and nonprofit issues. Here’s David’s response:

“Recent court decisions add to a growing body of law that data posted on social media websites is not entitled to special legal protections. For example, the United States District Court of California noted that the content on social networking sites is not privileged or protected by common law. Mailhoit v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 285 285 F.R.D. 566 (C.D. Cal. 2012).

“Every church should have handbooks signed by all of its employees, volunteers and board members (i.e., staff) that contain a Social Media Policy. This policy should communicate that the staff is expected to live committed Christian lifestyles, and this obligation includes the use of social media. As such, the content on social media of a staff should be consistent with church teachings. Therefore, if in the opinion of appropriate church leadership, a staff member’s postings on social media portray images, ideas or lifestyles inconsistent with church teachings, then it is grounds for discipline up to and including termination.”

I’m not an attorney so I recommend you contact David’s team if you have any specific questions. But the bottom line is that for churches and ministry organizations, there’s hope. I wouldn’t worry about the occasional comment, but if you’re getting employees regularly posting negative comments about your church or ministry on social media, you now have options to pursue.

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This article originally appeared on PhilCooke.com and is reposted here by permission.