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Whole Foods Market is reportedly monitoring its employees' online postings, including on private accounts if it finds a way to gain viewing privileges to them. The snooping comes in wake of its CEO's controversial comments.  (Source: LIFE)
Big brother (your WFM manager) is watching you online, even if your page is private

Whole Foods Market, based out of Austin, Texas, is one of the nation's largest health-food supermarket chains with over 275 locations in the United States, Canada, and the UK.  It has traditionally been listed as a top place to work as it provides its employees with competitive wages and much better health benefits than many of its competitors.

The company is currently struggling with an identity crisis, with CEO John Mackey looking to purge what he views as unhealthy evils such as processed sugars and white bread from the chain's lineup.  And he created a major storm of publicity when he attacked President Obama's healthcare reform plan in a Wall Street Journal interview.  And to top it all off, sales of the company are slipping.

Amid this harsh atmosphere and its CEO's controversial comments, the company is reportedly cracking down on employees' expression of dissatisfaction online.  DailyTech interviewed Whole Foods Market employees at several locations, and according to them the chain has implemented a zero tolerance policy with regards to online postings and is aggressively monitoring its employees.

One employee reports that the company discovered a post on their private Facebook page via a friend who leaked the info.  The post complained about a long day and obnoxious customers.  Despite the fact that the general public could not view the page, WFM reportedly gave the employee a disciplinary notice and disciplined several other employees who commented on the post as well.  WFM is reportedly monitoring its employee's Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and blog accounts both directly and via friends (for private accounts) to identify and silence such complaints.

While such WFM is by no means the first employer to carry out such a campaign, it remains alarming nonetheless that the company is going to such lengths to scrutinize casual comments on private online posting spots.  It is unclear if the policy has been adopted nationwide, but it's clear at least that it has been adopted across the state that the interviews were conducted in, which is home to several WFM stores.

The employees we spoke with called the tactic "intrusive" and "scary".  They also expressed concern that the actions of their company's CEO are provoking the company to attack its employees as a reactionary response to the embarrassment his comments are causing.

Employees written up unfortunately have little recourse inside the store.  Unlike many grocers, Whole Foods Market is not unionized.  However, it would seem unsurprising to see employees sue the company for invasion of privacy if this policy continues.

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Unionize whole foods?
By TheDoc9 on 11/24/2009 8:51:55 AM , Rating: 2
Aren't the prices high enough? In any case, we don't know the specific comments made and for all we know this is from a cat fight between two little old bitty's at work. One trying to get the other in trouble.

It's stupid for people to talk about their employer in any public forum. If they've got a problem bring it to the manager if necessary.

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By misbfa1 on 11/24/2009 9:30:46 AM , Rating: 2
It's stupid for people to talk about their employer in any public forum. If they've got a problem bring it to the manager if necessary.

Clearly you have never seen this site. Employees obliterate the companies they work for every day. Very elightening, and sometimes very funny. It is anonymous however.

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/24/2009 11:08:57 AM , Rating: 4
It's stupid for people to talk about their employer in any public forum. If they've got a problem bring it to the manager if necessary.

I don't agree.

First off, what you say on Facebook should be obviously protected by the First Amendment. Now, you could say that the employer is excersizing his right to fire you if he reads something you wrote that he doesn't like...but I have a few questions about that.

1. Where is it written that an employer has the right to fire you if you say something socially he doesn't like ?

2. Did the employees sign a 'gag order' or non disclosure clause when they were hired that would prohibit them from speaking about work socially ?

This trend of employers fishing peoples Facebook accounts for reasons to fire people is alarming to me.

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By kamel5547 on 11/24/2009 7:56:46 PM , Rating: 5
1. At-will employment
2. See #1, it doesn't really matter.

An employer can terminate at-will employees at any time for any reason that is not discriminatory or a violation of labor laws. Sure a union employee could file a grievance and a employee with a contract could use that contracts language (possibly) to fight something like this, but ont an at-will employee.

I agree that the trend is bothersome especially if people take the precaution of limiting access via privacy features. That being said I think legally speaking there is no issue (I am not a lawyer, I just read a lot of employment law related items).

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By brshoemak on 11/27/2009 8:11:44 PM , Rating: 2
^Exactly right.

As long as you don't fire someone Race, Color, Religion, Sex, National Origin, Age, Sex and now Genetics (2008) an at-will employer can fire you if they think you're looking at them funny.

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By Fracture on 11/30/2009 2:40:26 PM , Rating: 2
I wish I could post and rank down comments at the same time, but since I can't, I'll knock down the myth that Reclaimer77 and a few others are perpetuating:
First off, what you say on Facebook should be obviously protected by the First Amendment.

The First Amendment protects your speech from the government. Not everyone else. And as kamel5547 so aptly put it:
1. At-will employment

This is first and foremost the issue at hand - Whole Foods has the right to take whatever action it deems fit of its employees violating its code of conduct. And if you really want to keep it private, try not having friends that will give up the password and sell you out.

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By Oregonian2 on 11/24/2009 10:43:38 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't someone get killed or some such due to communications on one of the "social networks"? So is this okay? No responsibility due to First Amendment rights?

Note that First Amendment rights aren't being violated anyway (AFAIK). The postings aren't being censored. Just the posters being held responsible for their statements.

One of the things that drove me crazy about some of the Hollywood celebrities who would say something controversal demanding that they can do so because they're within their rights -- then being upset when others react by exercising their own rights in response.

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By tastyratz on 11/24/2009 12:36:33 PM , Rating: 1
Unions don't always result in high prices and are not always a bad thing. Don't let the UAW taint your view to think that any and all unions are bad, they have their place. There are times where they are beneficial to help the employee, and this invasion of privacy is one of them.

This was not in a public forum, this was a private non work associated communication with very specific people that got leaked (facebook friends only post is a specific list of designees).
That would be like emailing your girlfriend a dirty joke at her hotmail from your gmail after work and her leaking it to your corporate HR. Should they be able to fire you for that?

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By Oregonian2 on 11/24/2009 10:45:55 PM , Rating: 2
If it weren't public, how was it leaked? Is facebook insecure, or is the fact that the company heard/read about it enough to show "publicness" in that anybody else of the public could have accessed it as well? Something sounds fishy.

RE: Unionize whole foods?
By Nik00117 on 11/25/2009 7:32:54 AM , Rating: 2
At the same time if you know the company does this then you can use it to your advantage.

I have a hunch my company watches my facebook profile etc, which is fine because I have nothing but good things to say about them.

Although if an employer got onto me because I said I had a stressful day I'd tell them to STFU. Complaining about annoying customers and a long day? Seriously that's nothing new, now maybe I'd be concerned if they broke some big news. But we all have our long rough days with unrully customers.

“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads
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