How Much Privacy Do Public Employees Actually Have?

According to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Francis Galvin, "The Massachusetts Public Records Law parallels federal law, with some variation. Every government record in Massachusetts is presumed to be public unless it may be withheld under a specifically stated exemption."

This Raises an Interesting Question:

Should a public employee's purely job-related speech, expressed strictly pursuant to the duties of employment, be protected by the First Amendment simply because it touched on a matter of public concern, or must the speech also be engaged in "as a citizen?"

In Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), the plaintiff in the case was a district attorney who claimed that he had been passed up for a promotion for criticizing the legitimacy of a warrant. The United States Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that because his statements were made pursuant to his position as a public employee, rather than as a private citizen, his speech had no First Amendment protection.

Ceballos's employers were justified in taking action against him based on his testimony and cooperation with the defense, therefore, because it happened as part of his official duties. "The fact that his duties sometimes required him to speak or write," Justice Kennedy wrote, "does not mean his supervisors were prohibited from evaluating his performance."

How is your Municipality or Agency Represented Online by it's Employees?

If an electronic communication is made or received in connection with the transaction of public business, it is a public record regardless of whether it is created or stored on a public or private computer, mobile device or email system. Consider how your employee’s use of social media may affect the capacity in which they operate as an employee of your agency or municipality. When an employee uses a personal social media account to publish a work-related social media post, they may be subject to the Massachusetts Public Records Law.

As a public employer, you need to consider how your employees are using social media and provide guidance. Nichol Figueiredo and Michael Tusino, the former Public Information Officer and Records Access Officer for the City of Framingham and current Partners of Capital Strategic Solutions, LLC have crafted a specialized program to educate public employees about the use of social media and how to avoid the pitfalls of the Public Records Law. Attendees have the opportunity to share their own experiences and challenges, while learning how to safe guard their social media accounts.

We Host Training Sessions.

We are committed to training and empowering your organization to endorse the current best practices and trends in web accessibility, social media, open data solutions and public records management. Our training programs create an open channel for the flow of information targeting professional and personal development; these sessions can result in a boost in employee motivation and skills needed for a valuable and successful work experience.

If you are interested in these types of services and/or learning more about what we do, please contact or call 508-690-0046

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