Can I Be Disciplined for a Co-Worker’s Group Text?

Can you be disciplined for being part of your co-workers group text conversation even though you didn’t post a comment in a thread? The short answer is yes. I’m Muna Busailah, managing partner of the police defense firm Stone Busailah, and for decades we’ve represented officers involved in administrative investigations that involved communication between the officers.

A client case

In one of the cases we handled, a group of officers working the same graveyard shift engaged in a group text thread over weeks involving mostly non-work related topics. The thread included some officers typing exchanges and others just hitting buttons above the text bar like a heart or haha.

What went wrong?

At some point, one of the officers became offended by the comments that were posted after a meme that was intended to be a joke. The officer made a complaint to the department and an investigation followed.

Everyone involved in the group thread was investigated for allegations of conduct unbecoming, bringing discredit to the department, violation of the department’s social media policy even though this was a text thread, and failure to report the misconduct of others. So even those that did not post a comment or whose only involvement was hitting the button with a little heart became embroiled in the investigation and was subjected to discipline.

Another case

In another case, a group text thread was investigated criminally for the comments posted by the officers. Again just being included in the thread can result in you being caught up in an administrative or criminal investigation.

Why you should not participate in group texts

So what’s the takeaway here? Do not participate in group text threads since you have no control over what is posted or by whom. Know your rights in an investigation and seek competent counsel to represent you during the investigative process. For more information click our link and receive our publication, “Ten things you should know during an internal affairs investigations.”

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