Information Intersection > Troutman Sanders LLP

The Curious Case of Gene Morphis

Posted: May 29, 2012

As social media use grows, we’re all observing some people who are, how shall we say . . .  “oversharers” – those who publicly display parts of their lives that would perhaps have remained private in a different time.  Unfortunately for Gene Morphis, his social media oversharing cost him his executive level job. 

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that Gene Morphis, the chief financial officer of fashion retailer Francesca’s Holdings Corp., was fired because of his social media activity.  The CFO’s tweets and posts, as reported by the WSJ, were short and simple – as most indeed are –but sometimes they related to his duties as an executive of the company:  “Dinner w/Board tonite. Used to be fun. Now one must be on guard every second.” “Board meeting. Good numbers=Happy Board.”  “Roadshow completed. Sold $275 million of secondary shares. Earned my pay this week.”   According to new reports, these postings led to Morphis’s termination for cause for failure to comply with company policies. 

This tale gives us cause remind all of our clients, friends and readers that the plague of oversharing requires employers to remain vigilant in protecting their trade secrets and otherwise confidential or sensitive information.  In this context, an important step in protection is to employ and enforce a social media policy.  According to a survey of 470 companies by the Society for Human Resource Management, only about 40% of employers have formal social-media policies.  A good social media policy should at the least do the following:

1. Inform.  Employees need to know what information is off-limits for social media.   Educate your employees about the importance of the company’s Internet presence.  A good social media policy should be a written document detailing what the company considers confidential and protected information.  Require your employees to read and sign the policy.

2. Be Realistic.  These days, in many contexts, it’s probably unrealistic to restrict all access to social media, even for personal purposes.  Much that is available in terms of social media has legitimate uses, and platforms like Facebook are becoming more and more mainstream ways for employees to communicate with their clients, customers, prospects and, importantly, family members.  A good social media policy should consider the issue of de minimus personal use for legitimate reasons. 

3. Protect IP.  Protect your trademarks and copyrights by limiting employee use of them.  In addition to restricting use of the company’s trademarks and logos, the policy should address whether employees can affiliate themselves with your company on social media sites.  Restrict the creation of “fan pages” by employees.

4. Discipline.  A good social media policy has teeth.  State clearly that a violation of the policy could result in specific types of discipline or even termination.  But don’t just say it, be sure to follow through.  A policy that looks good on paper but isn’t enforced can often have worse consequences than no policy at all. 

Finally, it bears noting a good social media policy is just a basic part of a broader set of acceptable computer use policies (i.e., Internet use policy, e-mail policy, mobile or portable device policy).  These policies should all be periodically reviewed and updated, to keep up with changes in your company and in technology.

For more information, please contact Puja Patel or John Hutchins.

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