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In Today’s Digital Landscape, Are Your Employees a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen?

Posted: May 26, 2021 at 10:02 am / by / comments (0)

It’s no secret that today’s generation is wholly devoted to capturing their memories on social media. Whether it’s a photo of the gourmet coffee they purchased on their lunch break, or it’s a cheerful commentary about their vacation to an exotic locale, sharing unfiltered thoughts is more commonplace than ever before.

While this routine sharing is mostly benign, albeit fraught with its own security risks, it seems that more and more employees are choosing to share work-related confidential information on their social media accounts. Not only is this incredibly dangerous for the employer, as it puts them in the position of facing legal fallout, but it also exposes the violated party to their own share of public speculation and ridicule.

Oftentimes, these comments and images are shared without a second thought, and the employee in question may have had no serious malicious intent in revealing the private data with the public. However, once the information is out and on the world wide web, it’s privy to mass speculation and can lead to serious repercussions to both the employee and their employer.

Protecting your business — whether you work in law, healthcare, or even an unrelated field altogether — should be of chief importance. While it would be hasty to say that your staff had intended to harm you and your livelihood, their ignorance can be a costly mistake. Avoiding such errors should be a chief priority, regardless. You can get more help from mSign.

In order to prevent causing serious and lasting damage to yourself and your company, it’s vital to educate your employees about privacy. In turn, you can ideally avoid costly fines, and even a nasty lawsuit, if such an employee does inadvertently overshare on social media.

The Innocent Social Media Rant

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for essential workers, particularly healthcare workers. Between working long hours and being largely understaffed, it’s reasonable to have sympathy for these overtaxed employees.

Nevertheless, as much as their selfless hard work is valued and appreciated, it does not justify them taking their grievances to social media to air it all out. All it takes is one egregious slip of the tongue — or rather, slip of the fingers — to send a string of forbidden, HIPAA-violating content out into the public.

Staff need to be educated about what is and isn’t acceptable to post on their social media accounts. Any sort of protected health information (PHI) or trade information can spell serious penalties for an employer.

Even innocent comments can backfire, such as when emergency room staff offered their condolences on social media for a police officer who perished in the line of duty while in their care. While their hearts may have been in the right place, their minds unfortunately were not.

Whether it’s a picture of a patient acting out at the hospital, or it’s a seemingly heartwarming picture of a senior citizen in the care of nursing home staff, none of this belongs on social media. Ultimately, failure to comply with it can be a serious and costly mistake for the staff and their employer.

The Poorly Executed Selfie

The selfie has become ubiquitous, and many people are not content to merely take a picture of a setting. Instead, they want to insert themselves into it, smiling brightly at the camera as they record the moment for their posterity.

While this is certainly fine while at the Grand Canyon, it is not fine for employees who work in delicate industries. Many people have found themselves in hot water for taking pictures at their workplace without first verifying that there was no confidential information in the background.

Whether it’s a patient’s chart or it has some seemingly trivial identifying information about a client, this can be a highly serious infraction for the employee in question. When in doubt, skip the selfie — or teach your staff to save it for a more appropriate time, and not while on the clock.

Even if the employee is on their break, they should still be educated about the risks of inadvertently including private information in their digital self-portrait. The moment that image makes it to social media is the very same instant that it is no longer confidential, and the door to litigation is opened.

Idle Workplace Gossip and Chatter

Employees are often caught by surprise to learn that something as banal as workplace chatter can actually be a violation of privacy and lead to fallout. The fact is, even the most harmless of conversations can lead to serious repercussions. Whether it’s discussing a curious medical malady or it’s a legal client’s confidential case, these thoughts are best kept to oneself.

Even if your staff are on their break, that conversation on their phone can put you and your employee at risk of strict penalties. Conversations that should never happen while at the workplace (or even off the clock) include discussing PHI, the appearance of a patient or a client, or even a novel medical event that may have transpired during the staff’s shift.

Even if the information in question is complimentary and even flattering in nature, such as revealing that a patient or client was attractive, could be construed as sexual harassment. Were this information to reach the wrong ears and someone possibly overhears it, then it could spell out disaster for all parties involved.

The Importance of Compliance Training

Trying to educate an employee about not violating certain compliance protocols can be met with resistance, and understandably so. Many people are uneducated as to what their freedom of speech entails, and they may try to push back against any standards that are put into place to curtail their inappropriate comments.

This is where compliance training steps in. While an employee may be ignorant, it still does not warrant their behaviors or actions. After all, their first amendment rights only protect their freedom of speech from censorship from the government; it says nothing about an employer’s right to crack down on non-compliant staff.

The value of compliance training cannot be overstated in these situations. Even more importantly, compliance training does not necessarily require carving out an excessive amount of time in order to complete it, nor does it mandate going to a designated classroom setting to undergo this training.

In fact, online compliance training is more than perfectly adequate, and it can help enlighten your staff about their responsibilities while on and off the clock. By taking the time to introduce them to this vital training, you can help ensure that whatever they say and do will not get back to you.

While it may initially seem unnecessary, it’s undoubtedly a sound investment for your business. Nobody wants to be hit with legal fees, penalties, unwanted lawsuits, and fines. When framed like this, compliance training isn’t just the logical decision; it’s also the financially sound one, as well.

Staying Safe in a Digital Era

Of course, there’s always a time and place for a social media post. Whether your staff wants to celebrate a private event on their personal accounts, or they want to share their recent happenings through photographs online, these are not necessarily problematic posts. It’s when a coworker, patient, or client’s personal information gets revealed is when issues start to arise.

Fortunately, most of the time, these innocent social media posts are just that: innocent, harmless, and fun. It’s the times that they’re decidedly not is when it becomes a problem that needs to be addressed. However, by taking the time to educate your staff about appropriate behavior, you can help ensure your staff remains compliant both on and off social media.

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