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Can an employer tell employees they cannot socialize away from work with management or be friends on Facebook?

F.T. Norton
StarNews
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Q. Can an employer by law tell employees that they cannot socialize away from work with management or be friends with management on Facebook?

A.  Katy Parker, who specializes in cases related to employment, police misconduct, and criminal defense as a partner in the a partner in the Wilmington law office of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, offered the following:

“It depends. If the employer is a private company, the employee works ‘at will’ and the employer can impose restrictions on employee’s social contacts with management outside of work and terminate employment for violating the rule,” she said. “If the employer is a governmental agency, however, there could be two exceptions that make it harder for the employer to impose such rules.”

Parker said some public employees can have job protections under civil service or statutory rules, like tenure for teachers – and a rule limiting after work contact might not be “reasonable” under those protections.

“Also, public employment is subject to the state and federal constitutions. Such a rule would implicate the right to freedom of association and be subject to judicial challenge where the employer would have to show a justification for the rule,” she said.

Parker said her comments should not be taken as providing legal advice; circumstances may differ from case to case.

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