First Amendment, Social Media and Employee Discipline

First Amendment, Social Media and Employee Discipline
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Resources
Recorded on: 2019-11-05
Unit 1 Slide Deck: First Amendment, Social Media and Employee Discipline
Unit 2 Workbook: First Amendment, Social Media and Employee Discipline
Unit 3 Recording: First Amendment, Social Media and Employee Discipline

Most of the world is now online. This definitely altered our reality, changing how humans deal with their personal lives, the workplace, the society and its government. Technology provides conveniences but also comes with its set of challenges. Existing standards are being updated to accommodate this inevitable aspect of our civilization and in some cases, redefining certain rights.

Back on Justice Clearinghouse is crowd favorite legal expert, Richard Hodsdon. Currently an Assistant County Attorney in Stillwater, Minnesota, he has more than forty years’ experience in criminal justice as an attorney, prosecutor, manager, author, instructor, and consultant. He’s worked in various civil and criminal matters concerning corrections, criminal prosecution, law enforcement operations and management, employment law, and personnel issues.

This webinar will provide a look into Supreme Court cases involving the First Amendment rights of public employees, particularly those that involve social media and other online activities.  Various concepts related to the dynamics between free speech, privacy, and social media presence are discussed in this course through case studies. Some of the case samples, legislation, and concepts tackled are:

  • New York v. Waters case that exhibited how information posted on social media site MySpace impacted a drug and gun possession case where defendant Waters arrested the suspect.
  • An incident where an officer uploaded a photo of teens holding guns with shirts bearing the likeness of then-president Obama which got the attention of Secret Service and resulted in suspension and demotion of rank.
  • Brady and Giglio obligations stressing that officers’ lack of discretion in their social media activity may be included as exculpatory evidence.
  • Implementing a Social Media Policy that stipulates whether a type of behavior and/or activity is acceptable or not.
  • The Balancing Test that specifies the topics that are more likely to be protected under the First Amendment based on:
    • Pickering v. Bd. Of Educ. where it was found that speech did not negatively impact the school district’s interests and operations when a teacher wrote a letter to a newspaper criticizing the board’s approach to raising revenue.
    • Connick v. Myers where it was found that speech was disruptive and isn’t protected when an Assistant District Attorney circulated questionnaires critical of supervisors.
  • The Garcetti v. Ceballos case emphasized that the source of information on a public concern is a determining factor on whether speech is protected.
  • City of San Diego v. Roe and Dible v. City of Chandler that set the precedent on protection for off-duty behavior particularly those that are sexual in nature.
  • Shepherd v. McGee and Palmer v. County of Anoka that highlighted how partisan social media posts can impact a government employee’s impartiality, credibility, and ability to perform the functions of the role.
  • Liverman v. City of St. Petersburg where the court found valid claim against First Amendment by establishing that private Facebook comments relating to staff safety did not create harm, negative attitudes or disruption of operations.
  • The Like button considered as ‘speech’ based on Bland v. Roberts, likening the act of liking a page or post to displaying a political sign.
  • The organization’s obligations to protect its employees from a hostile work environment resulting from online harassment and discrimination.
  • The ongoing trend in state legislation of restricting employers from requiring job candidates and onboard employees to surrender online account credentials.
  • The webinar attendees sought clarification on:
    • The difference between the private and public sectors’ ability to regulate employees’ social media activity.
    • A scenario that may be perceived as both a personal complaint and public concern.
    • How pseudonyms are not likely to provide anyone with anonymity or protection.
    • Sample models and templates of social media policies.
    • Agencies being held accountable to an employee’s post on an agency-run social media platform.
    • Right to speech conflict for those who are working for a sheriff’s department and also running for that office.
    • The definition of social media to include messaging platforms and other online content.


Audience Comments:

  • “The webinar was very informative.” — Audrey
  • “Helped make the gray-area of this topic, more black and white. Thank you!” — Roseann
  • Very helpful info. Thank You! — Barbara
  • “Always helpful to have specific case law references and examples.” — Erin
  • “Good real-world legal examples.” — IVA
  • “Case law and its interpretation. I would like to revisit this subject matter on a more in-depth platform. Excellent class!” — James
  • “Very informative. I particularly liked that Mr. Hodsdon’s presentation provided the Supreme Court cases to create a legal foundation for my learning.” — Loretta
  • “All of the case summaries and citations were extremely helpful and appreciated.” –Talia




** This webinar has been certified by the National Sheriffs' Association and may be eligible for Continuing Education Units through your POST. Please consult your local certification processes for additional details. Paid subscribers that attend will be able to download a jointly issued attendance certificate that includes the National Sheriffs' Association logo.
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