Yes, you can still get fired for your Facebook posts
Responders need to be aware there are some additional circumstances that could result in accidentally disclosing confidential information
There has been a surprising settlement of a National Labor Review Board case involving an EMT discharged for what she had posted about a supervisor on the social networking site Facebook. Although there was no hearing or official ruling, the terms of the settlement have become a policy changer for agencies across the country.
Contrary to other media reports, the settlement was reached before a hearing was held on the October 27, 2010 allegations of illegally terminating an employee for protected speech on the social networking site. The agency, American Medical Response in Connecticut, was accused of violating the National Labor Relations Act Section 7 that has been used to protect employees from discipline or termination for engaging in "concerted activities."
Those activities include discussing poor work conditions and unfair wages with other employees. The NLRA Section 7 covers all employees, whether they are unionized or not.
It's important to understand that, yes, you can still get fired for what you post on Facebook. Dawnmarie Souza, who brought the complaint against American Medical Response in Connecticut, can still attest to this fact, since the settlement did not include her being hired back by the agency. Disclosing confidential information as it relates to patients, which would be a HIPAA violation, or proprietary company information is still forbidden.
Responders need to be aware there are some additional circumstances that could result in accidentally disclosing confidential information, such as:
- Using any image or audio recording device from the start of an assignment through to the final disposition produces not only a potential violation of confidentiality but the potential for accident or injury from the distraction they cause
- Responders are charged with maintaining the confidentiality of the patients they come in contact with and they should not violate that in any form including the written word regardless of the number of characters used
- Responders need to be aware that geo-location applications used during an assignment that record location along with date and time can be used to identify a patient just as easily as a name or address
Agency Chiefs and Directors must learn from this as well. All encompassing policies attempting to regulate off duty online activities are not only extremely difficult to enforce, but will not necessarily protect the agency in either a legal court or the court of public opinion.
Part of the settlement requires AMR to change their current policies that had very broad prohibitive language regarding blogging and internet usage, including when their responders were off duty. If your agency already has a Social Media policy, then it's time to review it to make sure it is not infringing upon your responder's protected speech. If your agency does not have a Social Media policy, then you are long overdue to have one.
When I first started in EMS, before even stepping onto an ambulance, my proctor had made it very clear to me that EMS is not a one man job. It's a team effort built around partnerships between individual responders working together as a crew, between crews working together with their dispatcher, and between agency leadership working with the crews to provide them with the guidance and tools to get the job done right. It is vital for agency leadership to remember this partnership with its responders and to communicate clearly especially when it comes to creating policies that are expected to be adhered to while off duty.