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Legal Insider: Thin Line Between Social Media and Employment

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

One of the most evolving areas of employment law today is how off-duty social media use is increasingly affecting employees and their employment. One of the most common misconceptions about employee off-duty social media use is that it is somehow protected by law and cannot subject an employee to discipline. In particular, there is a belief that the First Amendment protects speech made outside of work on social media.

This isn’t the case. The First Amendment generally does not protect this type of speech for private sector employees and only rarely does for public sector employees.

Recent Examples in the News

Some recent examples of the connection between social media and employment have made the news recently. In one example, a private school administrator was placed on suspension for making inappropriate comments to Attorney Michael Avenatti on Twitter. A second example involved a Dean at Catholic University who this week was suspended for making comments about a female complainant related to the Kavanaugh U.S. Senate Supreme Court proceedings on social media.

Few Protections for Employee Use of Social Media

We have seen similar kinds of social media use issues arise in workplace termination cases far more frequently these days. The use of social media by employees is generally not protected by the First Amendment which only protects individuals from government action, not actions of private employers.

Employees can be terminated for social media speech even if it was created with their private accounts and prepared after work hours. Many companies are increasingly receiving complaints about employees who make threatening or inappropriate comments on Facebook, Twitter or other social media outlets.

As a result, many employers are then taking disciplinary action against these same employees. As the law on social media evolves we may see some protections develop where an employer takes discriminatory action for a post or violates other state and federal laws.

However, right now there is little in the way of protections for employment actions taken due to social media postings.

As easy as it is for an individual to express an inappropriate comment on social media in a moment of frustration it is just as easy for someone who sees the comment to report it to an employer.

In this evolving world of social media and employment law, it is generally a good idea for employees to understand the thin line that exists between posting on social media in a moment of frustration and an employer taking disciplinary action against them.

Conclusion

When facing employment or wrongful termination issues in Virginia it is important to obtain the advice of and representation of an attorney.  Our law firm advises and represents individuals in wrongful termination matters in Virginia and other jurisdictions. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at 703-668-0070.

Please also visit and like us on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Startup Arlington Initiative Aims to Bring in New Businesses

Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.comStartup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

While most Startup Monday articles profile a local business getting off the ground, today’s feature highlights Startup Arlington: an initiative aimed at bringing those businesses to Arlington.

Startup Arlington is an annual competition hosted by Arlington Economic Development that invites applications from promising startups that would be interested in moving to Arlington County. Applications for the latest round are available online and due Nov. 2.

The application consists of basic personal and company information, assessment of company growth/financial traction and the submission of a business plan and pitch deck.

Judges will review applications based on the overall strength of the team and the team’s knowledge of the market. The viability of the product, service, or technology will also be rated alongside an assessment of the company’s revenue and financing plans.

The winner of Startup Arlington will receive:

  • Three months of free living space in Rosslyn Residence Inn hotel
  • Three months of free office space in a coworking facility
  • Legal advice for the new business
  • Complimentary gym access
  • A stipend for public transportation fees

A full list of rules is available online, but in general applicants to Startup Arlington must be:

  • The CEO and/or founder (or co-founder) of an existing tech company
  • At least 21 years old at the time you complete your application
  • Able to live in Arlington County throughout the competition period

Winners of the competition must relocate to Arlington for at least four months. The startup also cannot be a business that is already located in Arlington or the Washington, D.C. region.

The previous year’s winner was GreenSight Agronomics, a system that converts drone imagery into actionable information.

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Del. Hope to Host Medicaid Expansion Town Hall

Del. Patrick Hope (D) will be hosting a town hall helping Arlingtonians understand Virginia’s new Medicaid expansion this On Friday, Oct. 26.

Hope is expected be joined at the town hall by Dr. Jennifer Lee, director of the Department of Medical Assistance Services, who will help explain who qualifies under the new regulations.

Many Virginians currently ineligible for Medicaid may be qualified under the new expansion. Childless adults were previously ineligible for Medicaid in Virginia, but those with an annual income at or below $16,754 may be eligible under the new regulations.

Eligibility for parents has been raised from those with an income at or below $6,900 to $28,677. Eligibility for people with disabilities has been raised from those earning $9,700 or below to $16,754.

An eligibility screening tool is available online to help Virginians discover if they can be covered by the new Medicaid expansion.

Applications to the state’s expanded Medicaid program can be filed beginning Nov. 2.

The meeting is scheduled for 2-4 p.m in the lower level auditorium of the Arlington County Department of Human Services (2100 Washington Blvd).

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Police: Credit Card Thieves Caught on Camera at Arlington Grocery Store

Fairfax County Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying suspects in a credit card theft case with an Arlington connection.

FCPD says credit cards were stolen from a vehicle in the Kingstowne community south of the Beltway — home to the “Alexandria” Top Golf and the Kingstowne Towne Center shopping center — but were then used to buy prepaid gift cards at a Harris Teeter store in Arlington.

The suspects were caught on surveillance cameras at the grocery store. More from a police press release:

Several credit cards were stolen from a vehicle in the Kingstowne area. This happened last week on Tuesday, October 9. The suspects used the stolen credit cards to purchase prepaid gift cards at a Harris Teeter store in Arlington County. If you recognize the suspects, or have information about this crime, please contact Detective R. Burke at 703-922-0894.

Tips can be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by visiting http://www.fairfaxcrimesolvers.org, or calling 1-866-411-TIPS. They can also be sent in via text by texting “TIP187” plus the message to CRIMES (274637). Text STOP to 274637 to cancel, or HELP to 274637 for help. Message and data rates may apply. Anonymous tipsters are eligible for cash rewards of $100 to $1000 if their information leads to an arrest.

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BASIS Independent McLean Open House

At BASIS Independent McLean, students are inspired to learn at the highest international levels in a nationally recognized curriculum. Part of the lauded BASIS Curriculum Schools network, which includes the top 5 schools in the country per U.S. News & World Report, we offer students a world-class education that positions them for future success.

Join us for an Open House on November 3, where we will provide an immersive overview of our age 2-grade 12 academic program.

Morning Notes

Major Crystal City Development Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a two-phase plan to redevelop a portion of Crystal Square, in the heart of Crystal City. The project will add 100,000 square feet of street-oriented retail businesses, including a new Alamo Drafthouse movie theater and a grocery store, to Crystal Drive, and upgrade an existing office building to ‘Class A’ office space.” [Arlington County]

Sunflower Restaurant Closed in Falls Church — Vegetarian restaurant Sunflower recently closed its location in Seven Corners. In its place, Bawadi Mediterranean restaurant has opened. Meanwhile, Sunflower has a location in Vienna that remains open. [Twitter]

HUD Grant to House Low-Income Arlingtonians — “The nearly $464,000 HUD Housing Choice Mainstream Voucher Grant is a specialized voucher program that will help non-elderly persons with disabilities who are transitioning out of institutional settings, at risk of institutionalization, homeless, or at risk of being homeless, rent housing in Arlington. The County’s Department of Human Services expects 40 Arlington residents to will be housed through the grant.” [Arlington County]

Another Arlington Money Diary — Another Arlington resident is the subject of a Refinery29 “money diary.” The latest profile subject is “an administrative assistant working in law who makes $57,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on candles for her daughter’s birthday cupcakes.” [Refinery29]

GW Unveils New Clubhouse at Barcroft Park — “[GW] Baseball’s first on-site clubhouse was unveiled at Tucker Field Saturday after more than a year of renovations. The Fassnacht Clubhouse and Training Facility is a 6,200-square-foot space that includes a locker room, coaches’ offices, a players lounge and an indoor turf training space. Each player received a customized locker, and the existing batting cages at the field were also enclosed, according to an athletics department release.” [GW Hatchet]

Fall Foliage Mostly MIA in Va. — “By the final third of October, fiery colors of fall are usually all over the place in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Not this year. While we are still at least a week or two from typical peak fall foliage in the immediate D.C. area, this year’s delay in autumn color is unlike anything in recent memory.” [Washington Post]

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Frost Advisory For Arlington, D.C. Tonight

Arlington, the District and other surrounding areas are under a Frost Advisory for Monday morning.

Forecasters say temperatures will dip to the mid-30s and could damage sensitive outdoor plants.

More from the National Weather Service:

…FROST ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM MIDNIGHT TONIGHT TO 10 AM EDT MONDAY… * TEMPERATURES…AS LOW AS 35. * IMPACTS…FROST COULD HARM SENSITIVE OUTDOOR VEGETATION. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A FROST ADVISORY MEANS THAT WIDESPREAD FROST IS EXPECTED. SENSITIVE OUTDOOR PLANTS MAY BE KILLED IF LEFT UNCOVERED. &&

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BREAKING: Condominium Building Fire in Rosslyn Area

(Updated at 8:55 a.m.) Firefighters battled an condo building fire in the Rosslyn area Sunday afternoon.

The fire broke out around 1 p.m. at a large four-story residential building on the 1400 block of N. Rhodes Street, sending dark smoke billowing into the sky.

The fire was in an upper floor apartment. A second alarm was sounded but the first wave of firefighters were able to bring the flames under control by the time additional units started arriving on scene.

No injuries have been reported. At least one lower level unit suffered significant water damage, according to scanner traffic.

N. Rhodes Street is closed between Clarendon Blvd and 14th Street N. due to the emergency response. The Arlington Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the blaze.

Photos via social media:

Photo (1) courtesy @mlewan3, (2) via Google Maps

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Video: Soldier on Scooter Menaced by Driver in Pentagon City

A man in Army fatigues who was riding a motorized scooter down an alley in Pentagon City was nearly run into by an impatient driver.

The road rage incident happened Friday afternoon along the driveway between the Pentagon Row shopping center and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall. An apartment resident witnessed it and managed to take video of the final seconds, as the soldier scooted just out of the way of the tailgating driver.

“Heard some honking outside my apartment and went over to my balcony that overlooks Pentagon Row, right next to the Pentagon City Mall parking garage,” the tipster said via email. “Saw a car right on the heels of a gentleman on a motorized scooter. Gentleman was wearing military fatigues. The military figure yelled ‘Stop!’ Car proceeds to hit scooter after the rider hopped off. Driver then continues on their way.”

No injuries were reported.

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County Manager Proposes Rolling Over Most Unspent Funds from Last Budget

Facing a combined budget gap of up to $75 million, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz is eschewing the usual divvying up of leftover funds from the last fiscal year and instead proposing to roll them over with an eye on next year’s budget.

Schwartz will recommend at Saturday’s County Board meeting that the $21.9 million in unspent funds available to the county remain primarily unallocated, with $16.5 million being set aside to give the Board more options going into the next budget process.

“Difficult choices will be required to balance the FY 2020 budget and will likely include service reductions, and consideration of a real estate tax increase,” says a county staff report. “Setting aside $16.5 million in undesignated funds from the close-out of FY 2018 will give the County Board some flexibility when weighing these choices.”

Schwartz is also recommending the county allocate $3.4 million (along with $3 million from Arlington Public School) to increase its General Fund Operating Reserve — important for maintaining the county’s triple-AAA bond rating — and $2 million for use by the County Manager “to address unforeseen needs that arise during the fiscal year without reprioritizing or cutting other programs.”

The county has funds left in its coffers at the end of almost every fiscal year, thanks to conservative budgeting practices intended to maintain the triple-AAA rating.

Often, the budget “close-out” process ends up funding a grab bag of county priorities, from law enforcement needs to affordable housing. Asked about that this week, Schwartz said his recommendation does not mean that affordable housing is being deprioritized.

“It doesn’t mean that some of that money going forward couldn’t be used for affordable housing,” Schwartz said at the town hall meeting. “I just think, given the hole we have to fill, I didn’t want to preordain what my priorities would be. We’ll see how the Board receives that.”

A number of civic activists have been pushing the county to reform the budget close-out process, which they see as a boondoggle meant to fund pet projects with minimal public scrutiny or discussion.

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