Last month, the SEC issued a report that makes it clear that companies can use social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to announce key information in compliance with Regulation Fair Disclosure (“Regulation FD”) as long as investors have been alerted about which social media will be used to disseminate the information.
Effective January 1, 2013, California will join Maryland and Illinois in significantly restricting employers’ access to their employees’ and job applicants’ social media accounts. Signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 27, 2012 and fittingly announced via Twitter, AB 1844 provides that an employer cannot require or request an employee or applicant to do any of the following:
- disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing personal social media;
- access personal social media in the presence of the employer;
- divulge any personal social media, except as provided in subdivision.
The law also prohibits an employer from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise retaliating against an employee or applicant for not complying with a request or demand by the employer that violates these provisions. However, an employer is not prohibited from terminating or taking an adverse action against an employee or applicant if otherwise permitted by law.
The law does preserve an employer’s rights and obligations to request that an employee divulge personal social media information reasonably believed to be relevant to an investigation of allegation(s) of employee misconduct or violation of applicable laws and regulations, provided that the information is used solely for purposes of that investigation or a related proceeding. An employer is also not precluded from requiring or requesting that an employee disclose a username or password for the purpose of accessing an employer-issued electronic device.
A companion law, AB 1349 that establishes similar requirements for postsecondary education institutions in regard to their students also goes into effect on January 1, 2013.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) today charged an Illinois-based investment adviser with offering to sell fictitious securities through social media sites. According to the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, Anthony Fields of Lyons, IL, offered more than $500 billion in fictitious securities, and in some instances, used LinkedIn discussions to promote fraudulent “bank guarantees” and “medium-term notes.”
The SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings against Fields charges that he made multiple fraudulent offers through his two sole proprietorships – Anthony Fields & Associates (AFA) and Platinum Securities Brokers. Fields allegedly provided false and misleading information concerning AFA’s assets under management, clients, and operational history to the public through its website and in SEC filings. Fields also failed to maintain required books and records, did not implement adequate compliance policies and procedures, and promoted himself as a broker-dealer while he was not registered with the SEC.
Also today, in recognition that fraudsters are now turning to new and evolving platforms to peddle their scams, the SEC issued two alerts to highlight the risks investors and advisory firms face when using social media.
One of these alerts, a National Examination Risk Alert titled “Investment Adviser Use of Social Media,” provides staff observations based on reviews of investment advisers of varying sizes and strategies that use social media. The bulletin addresses issues that may arise from social media usage by firms and their associated persons, and offers suggestions for managing the antifraud, compliance, and recordkeeping provisions of the federal securities laws. The alert notes that firms need to consider how to implement new compliance programs or revisit their existing ones to align with the rapidly changing technology.
In the SEC’s second bulletin, an Investor Alert titled “Social Media and Investing: Avoiding Fraud” prepared by the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy, the aim is to help investors be aware of fraudulent investment schemes that use social media, and provide tips for checking the backgrounds of advisers and brokers.
Legal experts say that litigation resulting from employer misuse of social media information is likely to rise, at least until more case law is established. And even if the company prevails in such lawsuits, there may be reputational risks as the cases grab national spotlight.
Media sources reported that next week, for example, a National Labor Relations Board judge will rule whether American Medical Response of Connecticut illegally fired a worker after she criticized her boss on
Facebook. In what labor officials and lawyers view as a ground-breaking case involving employees and social media, the NLRB stepped in to argue that workers’ criticisms of their supervisors or companies on social networking sites are generally a protected activity and
that employers are violating the law by punishing workers for such statements. According to media reports, American Medical denied the board’s allegations, stating they are without merit, and that “the
employee was discharged based on multiple, serious complaints about her behavior.” The company added that “the employee was also held accountable for negative personal attacks against a coworker posted publicly on Facebook…”
Media sources reported on another pending case, filed in Georgia against a school district, a former high school teacher is claiming that she was essentially forced to resign over Facebook photos that
showed her drinking alcohol during a European vacation.
And in a case settled in 2009, two workers in New Jersey sued their employer, Hillstone Restaurant Group, after they were fired for violating the company’s core values. According to court documents, their supervisors gained access to postings on a password-protected
Myspace page meant for employees but not managers. The jury found that the employer violated the federal Stored Communications Act and the equivalent New Jersey law, and awarded the employees $3,403 in back pay and $13,600 in punitive damages. Hillstone appealed before the parties reached an undisclosed settlement.
Labor relations pros caution that before taking any adverse action based on social media postings, the employer should consider whether the information could be construed as a complaint or report of inappropriate or unlawful behavior. This includes, but is not limited
to discrimination, harassment, unpaid overtime and other wage violations, or any activities that may trigger an employee’s whistleblower protection.