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Business Communication with Cengage Learning

 

  • The IRS Doesn't Consider Emails Private

    Strategizing with your accountant about how to avoid paying taxes? Asking your mom whether you really have to declare that research stipend? These conversations best not happen over email. The IRS believes it can access taxpayer's emails without a warrant, according to a response to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)'s asking for the agency's privacy policy . As a defense, the IRS seems to conjure the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which the ACLU calls "hopelessly outdated": "It draws a distinction between email that is stored on an email provider’s server for 180 days or less, and email that is older or has been opened. The former requires a warrant; the latter does not. Luckily, the Fourth Amendment still protects against unreasonable searches by the government." Enacted in 1986, the Act doesn't account for where many people now store email: in the cloud. Similarly, the agency seems to claim that people have "no privacy expectation" for email stored on a server. Although the IRS denies doing so, the agency may search social media sites for posts that may contradict some of the claims made on tax returns. Image source . Discussion Starters: If the IRS did search and read your emails, what would it find? Does this news make you more cautious about what you might send over email? How so?
  • SEC Gives Guidance for Social Media Disclosures

    Companies no longer have to wonder what is acceptable to disclose on social media sites. The SEC has set rules for how information may be disseminated on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. In the past, the SEC has been stringent on what companies can communication online. Because of Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD), the SEC wanted to ensure that all investors have access to information at the same time, so that no one individual or group has an advantage in investing. Now, the agency has softened its requirements. According to a New York Times article , companies can now post, with some restrictions: "...companies could treat social media as legitimate outlets for communication, much like corporate Web sites or the agency’s own public filing system called Edgar. The catch is that corporations have to make clear which Twitter feeds or Facebook pages will serve as potential outlets for announcements." In a statement , the agency summarized the new rule: "The Securities and Exchange Commission today issued a report that makes clear that companies can use social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to announce key information in compliance with Regulation Fair Disclosure (Regulation FD) so long as investors have been alerted about which social media will be used to disseminate such information." In other words, investors need to know a company's social media strategy—where information will be posted. By most standards, the rules are long overdue. Companies such as Netflix have been investigated by the SEC for posting information on Facebook. The clarification will help companies use multiple channels to reach multiple audiences. Discussion Starters: Read the SEC's statement . What else do you learn from reading "between the lines"? What questions or potential difficulties remain for companies deciding what, when, where, and how to post?
  • Anheuser-Busch to Paramount: Remove Budweiser Logo from "Flight"

    In the new movie, " Flight ," Denzel Washington's character, a pilot, is drinking a Budweiser beer while he lands a plane. Anheuser-Busch doesn't like the publicity and has asked Paramount to omit its logo from digital and future versions of the film. In a statement to the Associated Press, Rod McCarthy, vice president of Budweiser said, "We would never condone the misuse of our products, and have a long history of promoting responsible drinking and preventing drunk driving. We have asked the studio to obscure the Budweiser trademark in current digital copies of the movie and on all subsequent adaptations of the film, including DVD, On Demand, streaming and additional prints not yet distributed to theaters." A distributor of Stoli vodka, another alcohol represented in the movie, also is unhappy with the depiction of the brand. A representative of William Grant & Sons told the Associated Press, "Considering the subject matter of this film, it is not something in which we would have participated." These companies may be out of luck. As the Associated Press explains , courts have ruled that movies can use representations of brands without permission: "Trademark laws 'don't exist to give companies the right to control and censor movies and TV shows that might happen to include real-world items,' said Daniel Nazer, a resident fellow at Stanford Law School's Fair Use Project. 'It is the case that often filmmakers get paid by companies to include their products. I think that's sort of led to a culture where they expect they'll have control. That's not a right the trademark law gives them.'" Image source . Discussion Starters: What's your view of how alcohol is depicted in the movie? Do these companies have a right to try to protect their brand in this way? How do you think Paramount decided to use these brands? Did the movie producers not think about the impact on brands, did they consider the consequences and ignore them, or something else? How could this type of situation be prevented in the future? What are the responsibilities of filmmakers and brands?
  • Man Fired for "Berating" Chick-fil-A Employee

    Public opinion rages on after Chick-fil-A's CEO said he supported "the biblical definition of the family unit." First, we heard outrage from supporters of gay marriage and saw the company's softened stance on the issue. The saga continues as one man wanted to tell a Chick-fil-A employee—at a drive-through window—how he felt. Adam Smith, the (former) CFO of Vante, a medical supplies manufacturer, posted a video of the interaction on YouTube. Smith ordered a free water, referred to Chick-fila-A as "a horrible corporation with horrible values," and told the employee, "I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here." Vante didn't appreciate Smith's behavior or the publicity and fired the CFO. In response, Smith posted another video in which he apologizes to the employee; refers to her "beauty," "kindness," and "patience" in dealing with him; and explains that he "lost it." He said, "You should be very proud of how you handled the stressful situation. Great job. Wow." An article in Bloomberg Businessweek gives us a legal perspective on this situation and others: " Where Free Speech Goes to Die: The Workplace ." The author explains: "In America you can say pretty much whatever you want, wherever you want to say it. Unless, that is, you’re at work. Simply put, there is no First Amendment right to 'free speech' in the workplace—potentially perilous for many employees in a polarized political year with a tight presidential race." Mark Trapp, an employment lawyer further clarifies the limitation of "free speech": "The First Amendment applies only to employees of the government in certain situations, and all citizens when they’re confronted by the government." Discussion Starters: Did Smith's boss do the right thing? What are the arguments for firing him and for keeping him employed? How do you assess the Chick-fil-A employee's reaction to Smith? Did she handle the situation well?
  • Judge Rules that Tweets Are Public Speech

    A judge has ruled that an Occupy Wall Street protester's tweets must be turned over. Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. said that tweets are not protected as private speech; rather, they are considered public comments. The judge wrote: "The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts. What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you." The judge also wrote, "If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy." The decision came out of a court case that subpoenaed the protestor's deleted tweets. Both the protestor and Twitter tried to block to subpoena. Twitter issued a statement about the decision, which included this excerpt: " Twitter’s terms of service have long made it absolutely clear that its users own their content. We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights." Twitter also published its first " Transparency Report ," showing the number of government requests for user information and what percentage of those requests were fulfilled. Image source . (Protestors arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in October.) Discussion Starters: Does the judge's decision surprise you? Why or why not? What are the implications of this decision to company communicators? To you personally?
  • NLRB Weighs in on Social Media Policies

    What should companies include in their social media policies? The topic is still debatable; again, the National Labor Relations Board is taking issue with several restrictions identified in corporate policies and guidelines. In a 24-page memo , the general counsel of the NLRB calls out General Motors, DISH Network, and Target as having policies that either too severely restrict employees' online activities or go so far as violate the National Labor Relations Act. The Act protects employees' right to collective bargaining and concerted activity to achieve their demands in the workplace. The memo provides examples from GM's policy, which the NLRB believes are overly restrictive: "If you engage in discussion related to [GM], in addition to disclosing that you work for [GM] and that your views are personal, you must also be sure that your posts are completely accurate and not misleading and that they do not reveal non-public company information on any public site." The NLRB believes that "completely accurate and not misleading" is overly broad and may restrict employees' communication with each other. Similarly, GM's warning that employees should "[t]hink carefully about 'friending' co-workers" discourages employee communication. DISH and Target have other problems in their policies, according to the NLRB, for example, restricting employees from speaking with reporters and bloggers, and "releas[ing] confidential guest, team member, or company information, respectively. These guidelines prevent employees from sharing information about their working conditions, a provision of the Act. The memo highlights Walmart's social media guidelines as a lawful model. Walmart's guidelines broadly discourage "inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct." NLRB on social media Discussion Starters: Assess the NLRB memo. How well is it organized? Is the writing style effective? Is the content clear? If you were the head of corporate communication for GM, what, if any, changes would you make to the social media policy, which has been in place since 2007, according to GM spokesperson Mary Henige?
  • Jimmy John's Will Rehire Employees Who Put Up Posters

    Sandwich restaurant Jimmy John's had disappointing news this week : a federal judge ordered the company to rehire and pay lost wages to six employees. The employees were fired after they posted 3,000 notices implying that sandwiches could be made by sick workers. The employees claimed that if they called in sick but couldn't find a replacement, they feared being fired. In the court decision , the judge ruled that, by removing the posters, Jimmy John's violated workers' rights under the National Labor Relations Act. This decision was based on a labor dispute under way at Jimmy John's: a union held an election to organize workers and, although the union was narrowly rejected, it filed unfair labor practices, claiming that Jimmy John's interfered with the election process. The union perspective is that the workers were terminated "for blowing the whistle on company policies that expose customers to sandwiches made by sick workers." MikLin Enterprises, which owns Jimmy John's, will appeal the decision. Discussion Starters: What is your perspective of the posters? What is the company's perspective? How does this case relate to comments in social networking sites, a hotly debated topic for the National Labor Relations Board?
  • Sugarland Flubs Response to Victims

    Country music group Sugarland is facing lawsuits following a stage collapse at a concert last summer. At the Indiana State Fair, seven people were killed and 45 were injured. In the lawsuits, victims and their families criticize the band and the fair for not postponing the show because of bad weather conditions and not evacuating more quickly. Attorneys for Sugarland responded harshly to the allegations: "Some or all of the plaintiffs' claimed injuries resulted from their own fault." Critics call the legal approach " cowardly ." Read the entire legal statement . The statement is a dramatic contrast to what Jennifer Nettles, lead singer, said two days after the incident: "...moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured." In response to criticism of the legal statement, Gail Gellman, Sugarland's manager, posted this on the group's website : "Sadly when a tragedy occurs, people want to point fingers and try to sensationalize the disaster. The single most important thing to Sugarland, are their fans. Their support and love over the past 9 years has been unmatched. For anyone to think otherwise is completely devastating to them." Also on the website are comments from many supportive fans, who compliment Sugarland and their music. Although Sugarland had been tweeting almost daily, their last tweet was on February 15—now a week ago. Fans might like to hear directly from the duo. Discussion Starters: What is the attorney's perspective in this situation? Do you agree with this position? What should the Sugarland duo do at this point? What, if anything, should they tweet or write on their website? What are the potential consequences, and is it worth it?
  • Letter to Former HP CEO Revealed

    In June 2010, Mark Hurd, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, received a letter claiming sexual harassment of a contract employee, Jodie Fisher. Hurd resigned from HP on August 6, 2010. As one article described the unveiling, "This Is The Letter That Got Mark Hurd Fired As CEO Of HP." An HP shareholder requested that the letter be made public as part of a lawsuit to, according to The New York Times , "investigate corporate wrongdoing and waste associated with the relationship and Mr. Hurd’s resignation." Now the president of Oracle, Hurd lost his court appeal to keep the letter confidential. All Things D received the letter, which describes in eight pages of uncomfortable detail some of Hurd and Fisher's interactions. An attorney working for HP also compiled a timeline of emails that describe more of their communications. The publicity and detail are more than a little embarrassing for all involved. Read the full letter. Discussion Starters: Imagine that you own HP stock. How might you feel about this letter becoming public? If you were on Oracle's Board of Directors, how would you respond to this news? What, if anything, would you say to Mark Hurd? This is a good time to remember that email is always discoverable. What can you do to protect yourself against your emails becoming public?
  • Solyndra Legal Team Gets Into the Action

    Solyndra executives had agreed to testify before the U.S. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, but their lawyers have since advised them to plead the Fifth Amendment. Solyndra, a solar-panel manufacturer that received $535 million in stimulus funding, has filed for bankruptcy and is now under criminal investigation. The executives maintain their innocence : "The company is not aware of any wrongdoing by Solyndra officers, directors, or employees in conjunction with the DOE [Department of Energy] loan guarantee or otherwise..." Two letters from the legal team explain why executives Brian Harrison (CEO) and Bill Stover (CFO) will not answer questions that may incriminate them during Congressional hearings on Friday. In response, U.S. committee members expressed their dissatisfaction : "Who exactly are Solyndra’s executives trying to protect, and what are they trying to hide? "Despite repeated assurances that they would testify voluntarily and answer questions this Friday, today we received the news that these executives – who had plenty to say to federal officials when securing half a billion dollars in taxpayer funding for their venture – plan to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and will not answer questions from Congress." Discussion Starters: Compare the two legal letters for Solyndra executives. What minor differences do you see, and how do you account for these? How do you assess the U.S. committee chairmen's response to the news? What do you notice about the tone of their statement ? Consider the politics involved in this situation. Who are the major players, and what is driving their actions?