The horrific story of a 2-year-old being snatched by an alligator at Seven Seas Lagoon recently has been big news. In response, people have come forward with stories of alligator sightings at Disney. But, some very disturbing information published by an employee led to her nearly immediate termination.
"Unauthorized" sign posted in employee breakroom
A Disney College Program intern who was working in Magic Kingdom restaurants tweeted a picture of a sign posted in the breakroom pertaining to alligators. According to the sign, if employees are asked whether there are alligators in the water near Magic Kingdom’s Tom Sawyer Island, employees were instructed to respond as follows: “Not that we know of, but if we see one, we will call Pest Management to have them removed. Please do not say that we have seen them before. We do not want our guests to be afraid while walking around Frontierland.” After the tweet was discovered, Disney officials had the sign removed. But they also had the intern terminated.
Quick change of heart
The Orlando Sentinel contacted Disney about the intern and the next morning, it has been reported, Magic Kingdom Vice President personally offered to rehire the employee so she could finish out the internship. However, Disney officials deny any wrongdoing when it comes to the alligators and its instructions to staff. Specifically, Disney denied any knowledge of the posting of the "unauthorized" sign that the intern tweeted. Instead, Disney claims that employees are instructed to acknowledge that parts of the theme-park resort can attract wildlife.
Intern took the risk by blowing the whistle
The intern admitted that she knew sharing the sign on social media would likely get her in trouble, but she was still concerned about the idea of misleading visitors about the alligator problem. When management became aware of the tweet, she was told that her internship was ending early, her identification was confiscated and she was escorted from the park. According to emails reportedly obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, she may have had reasonable cause to be concerned. These emails allegedly indicate that Disney firefighters had been admonished for feeding alligators on the property.
Be aware of the potential consequences of using social media
Nearly everyone in the workforce has their own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media presence. Understand that you are ultimately responsible for what you post. So, be careful posting work-related information. You could end up disciplined or terminated for what you post. Indeed, your employer could legally terminate you for comments he or she may not agree with, as long as doing so does not violate certain employee rights.
Disney case involves whistleblower protections
In this particular case, whistleblower laws would protect the intern because she raised concerns about illegal activities or safety hazards in the workplace on her private social media account.
What does it mean to be a whistleblower?
A whistleblower is an individual who has knowledge of some illegal activity engaged in by their employer, and who reports that activity to the proper authority. In reality, being a whistleblower can be a very difficult decision because of the inevitable impact it will have on your job.
Because of the inherent risks in reporting your employer’s misconduct, government regulatory agencies try to encourage employees to report improper activity by providing protection for doing so. In Alabama, there are whistleblower protections under both state and federal laws. These protections include reporting discriminatory employment actions, workplace injuries under worker’s compensation laws, and workplace safety violations.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.