If you spend anytime on the Internet, you’ve come across headlines like this one. (Yes, it’s a little bait-and-switch, but you were expecting that, weren’t you?).

Indeed, sites like Upworthy have become big business in the last year all due to headlines that you can’t resist.

Well, that and Grumpy Cats.

(For an excellent recap of how we’ve all created a viral content monster, check out this post as well. No really.)

These headlines are the modern-day equivalent of the toddler who screams for attention. With the number of employment law blogs and social media channels that have proliferated out there, every new case is treated (by some, not all) as the MOST IMPORTANT CASE EVER filed by or decided by (choose one: NLRB, other federal agency, federal appeals court, state court, etc.)

But looking back over 2013 and looking forward to 2014, it feels that we’ve been in a period of incremental changes — not revolutionary ones.  And thus, the headlines seem unwarranted.

Yes, social media has been this new OMG thing in the workplace. But, it’s been around now for 5+ years.  In fact, last January, I joked that I was writing my “last” post about social media.

While that prediction was doomed to fail (as I also predicted), the law of social media in the workplace is looking a lot more predictable than most experts would care to admit.

Take the notion that a Facebook “like” could be protected speech.  Under the facts of a case that was decided last fall, the court’s decision that a “like” of a political candidate’s page might be protected free speech doesn’t seem so foreign.  The court said it was the modern day equivalent to a political lawn sign.   That seems about right.

And if an employee is on Facebook for four hours a day? Discipline them. Just like you would for an employee who took a 4 hour lunch break.  Again, not so revolutionary.

And then think about federal legislation.  Hard pressed to think of ANY that have passed in the last 3 years? That’s because there essentially hasn’t been any federal employment laws that have passed since we’ve had a gridlocked Congress.  Sure, bills get filed but they basically have zero shot at passing Congress.

Now, that’s not to say Connecticut is entirely quiet; the minimum wage increased on Wednesday, for example.  And we had changes to the state’s personnel files law too.  But an attempt to modify the state’s non-compete laws was vetoed by the Governor and even a privacy bill for social media passwords went nowhere.  And Connecticut court decisions on employment law tended to be yawn-worthy as well.

And while the NLRB is still trying to expand its reach (see the latest ALJ decision ruling that a company’s “no gossip” policy violated federal labor laws), courts seem to be reigning the board back in.

Before the holidays I gave a recap to BloombergBNA regarding some of the developments, but again, it was hard to get too excited about what has transpired.

Will 2014 be different? Perhaps.  I can’t predict the future anymore than you can. (If you want to see how my predictions for 2013 turned out, check them out here.)

But the lesson I would draw from the last year is to read more than just headlines.  Employers in Connecticut have enough to worry about, but it’s hard to see that any one bill or decision will “restore your faith in humanity” or “shock you to your core”.

And so we are left with this headline: Employment Lawyer Recaps 2013 and Predicts 2014.  Yawns Slightly. 

Happy New Year.

In this week’s Connecticut Law Tribune, I filed my annual “forecast” of employment law for 2013. As with the weather forecasts, it is subject to change on a moment’s notice. So drink your “tea” with a grain of salt.

So, last year, I brought out my trusted Magic 8-Ball to make my 2012 predictions. Looking back on those predictions, it did pretty well. It’s only flaw was suggesting that new NLRB notice rules would go into effect in 2012; a court injunction prevented that from happening.

But alas this year, the Magic 8-Ball was blown away by Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately, I’ve been catching up on the Harry Potter series and the art of reading tea leaves.

Will our tasseography be as accurate? Only Divination Teacher Sybill Trelawney knows for sure.

Tea Cup #1 — Wand

Reading the Tea Leaves

After the first cup of green tea, the tea leaves seem to leave an imprint of a magic wand.

The horrific Newtown shooting will surely be a defining moment here in the state, much like 1983 Stratford toll booth crash or even the 1944 Hartford circus fire.  

What might this mean for employment law? There will likely be a renewed appetite for legislative solutions to incidents of violence. And keeping violence out of the workplace and schools is no doubt going to be an important area to focus on.

While the legislature will undoubtedly want to wave a magic wand with legislation to make it all better, sadly, even they know that it’ll take more than a wand.

Tea Cup #2 – Tweeting Bird

Our second cup of black tea leaves a bird – surely, a symbol of Twitter.

Are you tired of social media yet? No? Good, because expect more stories about employees who behave badly online and employers who overreact to a tweet about their business that no one saw anyway.

2012 certainly brought more noise to the issue. What it still lacks though, is defining clarity. The NLRB issued various decisions, many of which erred on the side of the employee, saying that employee use of Facebook is a protected concerted activity.

Of course, that presumes a level of sophistication by most employees who are not using Facebook to “rally the troops”; they use it to share an anecdote about their day or to rant about a bad day at work.

I sense two developments relating to social media.

First, I see more legislation restricting employers from violating employee privacy. Already, Maryland and California passed new laws prohibiting employers from seeking Facebook passwords. Connecticut can’t be that far behind.

Second, I forecast some judicial clarity on “protected” activity and appropriate employer policies. As these cases wind their way through the NLRB, we are due to have courts finally add their perspective. Expect some circuit splits to develop as to what should be protected and how employers can react.

Continue Reading Reading the Tea Leaves for Employment Law in 2013 (Harry Potter Edition)