Social media present a conundrum to senior living operators, attorney says

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When it comes to social media policies in the workplace, be careful that while you're safeguarding your residents' privacy and dignity and protecting your community's reputation and finances, you don't run afoul of governmental rules meant to protect employees' rights, attorney Daniel Burke told those attending an educational session at the LeadingAge annual meeting in Indianapolis.

Burke, of Graydon Head & Ritchey in Cincinnati, cited the case of a certified nursing assistant who posted comments on Facebook after a female resident was less combative and used profanity less frequently than usual during shower time. The worker was expressing pride in her job, Burke said.

“She didn't name the resident, she didn't name the unit and she didn't name our client,” he said. “But she went into some detail about how proud she was about the fact that she had done her job so well that day.” Fifteen to 20 co-workers “liked” her post, which contained descriptions from which family members could have been able to identify the resident if they had seen it.

Such situations present challenges to senior living human resources departments, Burke said, because the National Labor Relations Board says that employees have the right to complain about employment and anything affecting their working environment, even if their conduct is unprofessional. In this particular case, he said, the CNA could have been viewed as expressing concern for workplace safety.

So what's an employer to do?

“Perhaps you could take a more conservative route of, at the very least, counseling the employee and try to have them look at it from the perspective of the resident and their family,” Burke said. “And that was the route that our client took in that particular situation.”

Also, he added, make sure that your community has guidelines covering social media, potentially including a call for a level of review of violations that goes beyond a worker's immediate supervisor.

“If you don't have that policy in the first place, you should get one,” he said. “If you have one but it's even a couple years old, you should really revisit it.”

Employers can tell workers not to post threats, anything discriminatory or harassing, or anything that reveals confidential or proprietary information, Burke said. “You're not prohibiting their right to complain about working conditions,” he added. 

Also consider training workers on social media use in the workplace, Burke said.

“Some of these issues are coming out of generational differences in the workplace,” he said, adding that those of the millennial generation see social media use as a way to express themselves. “They don't seem to have any problem sharing their thoughts and their photographs and their videos with the whole world,” Burke said. “And so it's an opportunity to educate them to see it from the resident's perspective and the resident's family's perspective.”

Read more about the NLRB and social media on the NLRB's website.

The LeadingAge annual meeting concluded Wednesday.

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