Kelli Stopczynski reports on a case in Michigan where a teacher’s aide refused to allow her employer to view her Facebook postings and was suspended. In this case, the district had been alerted by a parent to a photo that the aide had uploaded to her account.
Lewis Cass ISD superintendent Robert Colby called her into his office.
“He asked me three times if he could view my Facebook and I repeatedly said I was not OK with that,” Hester told WSBT.
In a letter to Hester from the Lewis Cass ISD Special Education Director, he wrote “…in the absence of you voluntarily granting Lewis Cass ISD administration access to you[r] Facebook page, we will assume the worst and act accordingly.”
Hester keeps that letter in her stack of documents related to the case. She provided the letter to WSBT.
Hester said Colby put her on paid administrative leave and eventually suspended her.
Read more on South Bend Tribune. The case is scheduled to go to arbitration in May.
There are some who might argue that the aide used poor judgement in uploading a silly or unprofessional photo to her account. But it was her personal account and on her own time and it was not publicly available. Could her employer rightfully claim that such conduct or images hurts the image of the district? Perhaps. In this case, a parent was the one who reported the matter – a parent who had friended the aide on Facebook.
But where is the line here? I don’t like an employer assuming the worst or that an employee who asserts their right to privacy has “something to hide.” But laws do not protect employees from this type of demand in many states.
The lines have been blurred between our professional lives and our online, but still personal, lives. Employers can certainly see what’s publicly available. But should they be allowed to demand access to what an employee takes pains to protect as private? And should such material be used to terminate their employment?
Back in the day, if an employee conducted himself or herself somewhat inappropriately (liking being a drunken spectacle at a party), there might be talk and gossip at work the next week, but their job wasn’t generally in jeopardy. Even if someone were to come in with a photo of drunken behavior, it would not lead to job termination. So why is a photo on a private page now the basis for job termination?
This is not a brave new world. It’s a confused new world that shrinks our private lives each day unless we draw a line in the cybersand and say, “This is mine, and no, you can’t have it.”