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Idaho: Nurse Discharged for Facebook Post Was Properly Denied Unemployment

By Susan R. Heylman  7/29/2014
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A nurse who was discharged for posting a Facebook entry that violated his employer’s social media policy had engaged in employment-related misconduct and was not eligible for unemployment benefits, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled.

After completing a work shift at the Desert View Care Center, Joseph Talbot, a licensed practical nurse, posted on Facebook that: “Ever have one of those days where you’d like to slap the ever loving bat snot out of a patient who is just being a jerk because they can? Nurses shouldn’t have to take abuse from you just because you are sick. In fact, it makes me less motivated to make sure your call light gets answered every time when I know that the minute I step into the room I’ll be greeted by a deluge of insults.”    

The care center had a social media policy that stated that employees were to at all times avoid slanderous, vulgar, obscene, intimidating, threatening or other bullying behavior electronically towards any facility stakeholders. It discharged the nurse for violating the policy with the Facebook post. He sought unemployment benefits.

The Industrial Commission denied the nurse’s application for unemployment benefits. It concluded that he had been discharged for employment-related misconduct under the standards of behavior test because the care center had communicated its social media policy to him and his conduct violated the policy’s standard. The nurse timely appealed.

In affirming the denial of benefits, the court noted that whether a claimant for unemployment benefits disregarded the employer’s standards of behavior presented a two-part factual question. “The test requires that the employer prove that 1) the employee’s conduct fell below the employer’s expected standard of behavior; and 2) the employer’s expectations were objectively reasonable under the circumstances,” the court explained.

The first part of the test was met because the care center had an expectation that its nurses would not make threatening statements about a patient on Facebook. This expectation was supported by its social media policy. 

The second part of the test was met because the nurse acknowledged that he had received the social media policy and agreed to its requirements. 

The court rejected the nurse’s additional argument that his conduct was not willful, that he had no bad intent, and that he did not mean harm to anyone. Under the standards of behavior test, there was no requirement that his conduct be willful, intentional, or deliberate, the court said, and the nurse’s state of mind was irrelevant.

The fact that the nurse had never violated the policy before also did not change the analysis. “The Commission found that Talbot violated the policy against electronically intimidating, threatening, or bullying behavior towards a facility stakeholder. Talbot posted a statement for many to see that indicated he would not respond to patient’s call button in certain cases. This could be interpreted as putting his intent toward patient care in question,” the court said. 

Talbot v. Desert View Care Center, Idaho, No. 61 (June 20, 2014).

Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.
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