Menu Icon Search
Close Search

Sound Off: Pharmacists and Social Media

Created November 7, 2012 by Peter Cohron
Share

 

A pharmacist recently contacted me with a question about a requirement for his new job with one of the major drug store chains. The chain had what he thought was a rather restrictive policy regarding the off-work use of social media (Facebook, MySpace, etc) and the pharmacist was wondering if the employer could actually restrict the employee’s use to this degree.

After reading through the policy twice, I concluded that the policy barely allows employees the use of social media. According to the way I interpreted the statements on making comments on-line, each time the employee did so, he was required to add a statement absolving the chain of any responsibility. He and I had a good laugh over the possibilities: “The Hunger Games was a great movie! This is the opinion of Joe Pharmacist and does not reflect the opinion of X Drugs. Additionally, X Drugs is not responsible for the content of any comment or statement herein enclosed.”

Of course, this is no laughing matter. The policy made it clear that failure to add those statements at the end left him open to immediate and incontestable termination.

To the extent that employers will share these, I have found that almost every employer, pharmacy or not, has in the last year, created a policy on the use of social media by its employees. In every case, these policies are quite restrictive on the use of social media: usually how and when the employee may mention the employer by name is subject to limits, all confidential information must not be mentioned, and employees agree that if the employer does not have a monitoring program already in place they will allow their employer access to their social media sites for inspection. Finally, it is made clear that, like above, not confining one’s use of social media to those restrictions is a basis for termination of the employee.

A legitimate basis exists for employers to be concerned. In the past, disgruntled employees have verbally or written (true or not) defamatory statements of their places of employment, their bosses, and their corporate leadership, as well as releasing to the public confidential and/or proprietary information that caused the employer injury, sometimes substantial harm. Though not very often, this has now also occurred on social media sites. One of the Big Three pharmacy chains opened up a Facebook page that allowed comments; the comments section was shut down within days when the majority of messages were complaints or of a derogatory nature made by employees. It being possible that an employee’s complaint can be posted and re-posted where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, might be influenced by its comments, employers have instituted these policies to protect the reputation and good name of their companies.

What little case law out there supports the employer’s right to place restrictions on employees’ use of social media. Lies, unsubstantiated complaints, unauthorized release of information and false allegations have caused real harm. Courts have recognized first, the need for an employee to have certain restraints placed upon him by an employer and second, the right of the employer to protect himself from the wrongful acts of its employees.

After reading over the policy with the pharmacist above, I was then contacted by a pharmacy supervisor who wanted my opinion on whether he could force one of his pharmacists to omit certain comments she (the pharmacist) often mentioned on social media. The problem was that this pharmacist discussed in detail her off-work intake of alcohol. If the supervisor was not exaggerating, she was drinking almost daily, listing the number and types of drinks imbibed. While conceding that this was her business, he had some concerns.

First, what if she and her employer were sued because she made an error? This concern was valid. Social media is not protected speech and thus would be discoverable in a lawsuit; a good attorney would, based on her social media postings, portray her as an out of control drinker and make the jury wonder if she drank on duty. The pharmacist and employer could be open to a significantly larger liability based on these postings.

Second, he asked if the postings could simply reflect poorly on her and her employer in the professional sense. Could he ask her to remove or at least tone down the postings to prevent her “friends” from getting an unprofessional view of her as a pharmacist and of her employer for hiring her? Though not mentioned by the supervisor, I had the additional concern that a future job opportunity might be harmed by a potential employer reviewing her social media site and seeing this “history” of drinking.

So, overall, employers have the upper hand on placing restrictions on the use of social media by their employees. Employers have an inherent responsibility to show some loyalty to the people paying them a salary, and the employer has a right to protect its good name and trade/proprietary information from unauthorized release. As some employees disregard this, employers must take steps to minimize injury that results from those people. Also, as professionals, pharmacists must seek to protect themselves from potential harm by being circumspect in their choice of postings that might hurt the professional image.

Finally, however, a word of protest must be added. Many of these policies are overly restrictive, creating a “Big Brother Is Watching You” atmosphere. These policies need to be scrutinized with a wary eye, as does any policy that infringes on free speech. Few people have actually used social media to blast their employers to the point of being unfair or causing significant harm to the business. It is questionable that employers are using a few “bad apples” to place objectionable restrictions on the whole barrel.

// Share //

// Recent Articles //

post-bacc program
  • Post-Bacc Program Guide

  • Posted June 28, 2016 by Brian Wu
  • Post-baccalaureate or “post-bacc” programs, for short, are a topic that is often discussed among pre-med students. While post-bacc programs can benefits students with many types of backgrounds, they are not for everyone–and knowing this ahead of time is important, as the cost for these programs is anywhere between $20,000-$40,000. This article covers just what post-baccs...VIEW >
short coat logo 2015 with title
  • The Short Coat Podcast: Guns and Butter

  • Posted June 24, 2016 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • John Pienta’s been experimenting with his diet.   Aline Sandouk, Mark Moubarek and Corbin Weaver talk about the science and John’s experiences with a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting.   He concludes that the medical profession is giving bad advice about what we eat and how nutrition works.  Plus, John drops some knowledge on how the combination of theanine and...VIEW >
IOTW-SDN small
  • Figure 1 Image of the Week: How would you manage this drug-induced reaction?

  • Posted June 24, 2016 by Figure 1
  • A 55-year-old male is diagnosed with infective endocarditis two weeks after undergoing dental surgery, and is started on antibiotic therapy. A few minutes into commencing a rapid infusion of vancomycin, he develops flushing, erythema, and pruritus on his face, neck, and chest. He reports a diffuse burning sensation and generalized discomfort. After stopping the infusion,...VIEW >
diversity in med school
  • Diversity in Med School: Why It’s Important and What Minority Applicants Need to Know

  • Posted June 22, 2016 by Brian Wu
  • While getting accepted into medical school is more difficult than ever in America, there are some particular challenges facing would-be medical students from certain ethnic groups that have been traditionally underrepresented on medical school campuses across the country. For many reasons, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is heading a multi-faceted campaign to increase racial...VIEW >
sleep deprivation
  • Sleep Deprivation and Residents: Are We on the Right Track?

  • Posted June 20, 2016 by Brian Wu
  • The tradition of long hours on the floor is an old one in American medical training. And criticism of this tradition is of long standing too. The controversy over the grueling residency schedules is not a new one, but neither is it one that has been successfully resolved. It can still spark off strong feelings...VIEW >
short coat logo 2015 with title
  • When Balloon Animals Attack

  • Posted June 18, 2016 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • In his former life, co-host Mark Moubarek was a children’s entertainer. So in a stroke of genius, Dave decides to have him make balloon animals for Aline Sandouk, Marc Toral, and Rob Humble. On an audio podcast.  But it’s okay because it’s summer! Or, read another way, Dave had nothing prepared for the show, and so we’re...VIEW >

// Forums //