Last year, I was asked to present on the “new electronic frontiers” in the workplace, and related issues in arbitration. In preparing my presentation, I came across these incredible statistics from the Pew Research Center:
As of November 2016,
- 88% of American adults have internet access
- 69% of American adults use social media
- 86% of 18-29 year olds use social media
- 80% of 30-49 year olds use social media
- 64% of 50-64 year olds use social media
- 68% of American adults use Facebook
- 88% of 18-29 year olds use Facebook
- 65% of adults who make less than $30000/year use Facebook
- 76% of Facebook users use it daily
- Facebook at 191 active monthly users in the United States, and 1.86 billion active monthly users worldwide
These numbers are stunning for a few reasons. First of all, it’s clear that internet and social media usage are as or more pervasive among workers than possibly any other media usage or activity. Other than essentials like eating and sleeping, is there anything this many Americans do in common? Second, this kind of access undermines arguments that workers cannot and do not use technology in a variety ways. It’s clear that the internet isn’t going away, and workers are relying on it more than ever for everything from socializing to banking to managing their own work.
As a result, employers and unions are grappling with the issues that are raised by access to social media and the internet, both in and out of the workplace. Other the next several posts, I want to talk about the variety of these cases and how arbitrators approach them.
The most common issue that arbitrators see in this area are disciplinary matters that hinge on misuse of equipment, the internet, social media and on-duty vs. off-duty conduct. In general, arbitrators apply a variation of the Just Cause Standard to these cases, asking:
- Is there a clear policy on internet, social media, computer or email usage?
- Is the rule articulated reasonable?
- How was the information obtained, and is the employee responsible for it?
- Is there disparate treatment and an appropriate penalty?
Just cause standard in computer misuse cases was described by Arbitrator Jeffrey W. Jacobs, NAA Member, “Computer & Internet Misuse – So, You Mean Once It’s Posted, It’s Really There Forever and I Could Get Fired For It?”, published by The Labor Arbitration Institute.
I’ll talk about each of these in upcoming posts.