As companies engage in the incredible marketing power of social media, they’re also discovering that while there are very few laws in place yet, there are plenty of legal concerns.
One of the biggest concerns? How much power do they have over what their employees post on social media sites? What about privacy, discrimination and the right of employees to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment?
To strengthen their legal rights, companies must be proactive in setting clear policies regarding employee use of social media. By establishing guidelines, companies can protect their own interests and give employees a roadmap for appropriate conduct.
Develop a plan. Companies must clearly communicate the appropriate venues for discussing workplace issues and then make sure that employee concerns are addressed. Just prohibiting workplace discussions on social media may not protect companies from action by the National Labor Relations Board.
Write a policy. If a company takes a neutral or positive stance regarding employee use of social media to discuss work, it must develop a policy to guide that use. Companies shouldn’t assume that employees know they shouldn’t post confidential information or that they should keep their posts strictly factual. The policy should spell out the rules in clear and concise language and make it clear to employees that they are company representatives and need to act appropriately in the virtual world.
Employers must be careful to define terms and provide examples to ensure that the policy is clear. Failing to do so can result in litigation.
Educate employees. As with e-mail, social media can be used effectively in the business setting. But employers shouldn’t assume that employees know all the pitfalls. The specifics of what is and isn’t appropriate should be reinforced through periodic training that focuses on particular aspects of the social media landscape.
Stress confidentiality. In addition to a social media policy, companies must incorporate references to social media into their confidentiality policies and other communications. Employees must be reminded to be hyper-vigilant regarding the information they post and ensure that the information is already in the public domain—or, at a minimum, not considered confidential or sensitive by the company.
Respect privacy. Company policies with regard to the use of Internet information in investigations should follow the law. There is no violation of the Stored Communications Act, nor are there privacy concerns, when investigations are performed with information available to the public. Therefore, if an employee’s privacy settings allow open access to material, the company can review it without issue. But if the material is password protected or is viewable by invitation only, then employers must respect those boundaries. Company representatives should carefully document how they access such information and ensure that any access is freely given.
By understanding the legal challenges posed by social media and then developing a policy to address them, companies can reap the benefits of new technology while minimizing potential problems. And if you have any further questions, contact Clark Personnel today!