Tips for Handling Social Media in the Workplace
The rise of social media in the workplace has presented a sort of "Brave New World" challenge for some employers. The good news is, with the implementation of some critical policies and the ability to stay educated on new developments, employees and social media can offer many opportunities to help grow the business.
Whether you know about it or not, your employees are probably engaged in some form of social media at any time during the workday. They might be connecting with colleagues on LinkedIn, updating their Facebook status, or re-tweeting a humorous message someone else sent along to them. Harmless enough, but there are also risks of inappropriate social media use in the workplace, such as:
- Excessive amounts of time spent away from one's job responsibilities.
- Negative and disparaging comments made about one’s employer or coworkers and posted on a social media platform.
- Pestering comments that may rise to the level of unlawful harassment under federal or state law.
- Release of confidential or proprietary company information.
Banning all social media activity in the workplace is probably unreasonable, so it's essential to devise an effective social media policy in the workplace, distribute it to all employees, and monitor to be sure it's being followed. Here are steps you can consider to ensure the appropriate use of social media in your organization.
Recognize "protected activity." Certain employee activity is legally protected, as determined by guidelines issued in the recent past by the National Labor Relations Board and the acting General Counsel. Employees are generally permitted to engage in "protected concerted activity" through their own social media accounts. This includes discussions about their wages, benefits, or other working conditions.
Confidential and proprietary information. Obviously, private information about a company's finances, operations, and strategy should never be shared by employees online. Posting copyrighted images and content can also create legal difficulties for your company. Consider including the following provisions to your policy regarding social media in the workplace:
- Prohibit the unauthorized posting of any confidential or proprietary information regarding the company's finances, or trade secrets on a social media account without prior permission from a designated member of management.
- Require employees to identify any borrowed or copyrighted material (as well as obtaining permission if needed and/or crediting the original authors).
Establish rules permitting use of company information. Your policy should clearly indicate what company information is permissible for use on employees' personal accounts and the need to identify themselves as an employee of the company to ensure compliance with Federal Trade Commission guidelines.
Prohibit any form of harassment or discrimination. Your policy should specifically forbid inappropriate or bullying remarks made either by employees or supervisors. They must also never engage in social media activity that is in violation of local, state or federal laws.
Remind employees there is no expectation about privacy. If you monitor employee online activity, make sure employees know this.
Have employees sign an acknowledgment form. Once a comprehensive social media usage policy has been drafted (and reviewed by an attorney familiar with this area), request that all employees sign a form acknowledging they have read and agreed to the policy.
Your responsibility as an employer doesn't stop here. It’s critically important to monitor the enforcement of your social media policy and to take action where necessary to ensure that employees continue to observe the policy.
Since social media is constantly changing, you should review your policy at least every six months and update as needed. Regular employee education on appropriate social media in the workplace use is also a good idea.