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Social Media: Do’s and Don’ts in the Workplace ©

Social Media: Do’s and Don’ts in the Workplace ©

Date Published: 2012-03-01

Depending on your perspective, social media can either be a drain on productivity or a great promotional opportunity for businesses.  Either way, social media has made its way into the workplace.  While being valuable new tools of the trade for both employers and employees, social media platforms bring with them a new set of complexities related to communication within and outside of the workplace.  By revising a company’s communications policy or drafting a policy that specifically addresses social media, employers can help protect themselves against liability tied to new professional and social media platforms.

Social media includes any web applications that facilitate the sharing of information on the Internet, through social networking sites, web-based communities, video sharing sites, blogs, smart phones, and any other similar type media that may exist today or be developed tomorrow that is available on the Internet, cell phones, smart phones and other wireless communication devices.

Many employers are legally obligated to provide workplaces free from unlawful harassment and discrimination.  As such, employers are well served by establishing policies that prohibit unlawful discrimination and harassment that also prohibit online communications known as “cyberbullying” or soliciting or sharing sexually oriented comments, images via sexual texting or “sexting” in violation of such policies.  Employees should be reminded that their personal social media pages should not be used to ridicule, make fun of or bully any of co-workers or anyone affiliated with the company.  Further, such policies should be drafted to prohibit employees from partaking in activities on their social media page that could adversely affect or harm the company’s reputation which do not violate the law, e.g. policies should prohibit harassing comments related to sex, national origin, religion or disabilities.  Policies and penalties should be outlined and communicated to employees to avoid lawsuits.

Even nonunionized employers should be concerned about violating the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) as private sector employees—whether unionized or not—enjoy Section 8(a) rights which allow employees to participate in concerted activity which includes, but is not limited to, airing employee grievances related to the terms and condition of work, e.g. pay, benefits and poor treatment.  The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) is responding to complaints by employees by filing unfair labor practices against employers that have social media policies that ban employees from participating in concerted activities on their social media sites.

By establishing a policy and a complaint process that complies with antidiscrimination laws and the NLRA, employers can better respond appropriately to allegations that an employee has used a social media platform in violation of the employer’s policies.

In terms of intellectual business property, employers may face liability related to disclosure of protected information that is shared via social media outlets.  Policies should clearly remind employees of non-disclosure and non-compete policies and restrict the use of proprietary equipment and data for business purposes and the disclosure of confidential information.

In addition to these legal concerns, employers do have valid concerns about the loss of productivity.  In fact, a Boston-based IT research and consulting firm, for example, released a study that found that employees working for companies that allow employees to access Facebook reported spending up to two hours per day during work hours on Facebook.

Still, many businesses reap the benefits of social media activity. For example, employees sharing referrals via social media can help increase visibility or generate sales for the business so long as the employee discloses her affiliation with her employer when she is referring her employer’s service to others on social media platforms.  In this case, appropriate use of social media sites should be outlined and directly relate to specific employee job responsibilities as outlined by management.

Developing a written policy is only the initial step that an employer should take.  Once written, the policy needs to be implemented and employees should be given training on the policy periodically.  Employees come and go which means that new employees probably missed sitting in on a training session given last year or never received a copy of the policy.

Social media is public in nature.  Once something is posted on a social media site the likelihood of it being reviewed by others is quite high.  Employers are well advised to remind their employees to refrain from social media activities while at work unless directed to do so by management for the benefit of company.


A note to the reader: This article is intended to provide general information and is not intended to be a substitute for competent legal advice. Questions regarding the content of this article may be e-mailed to Christina Harris Schwinn atchristinaschwinn@paveselaw.com.  To view other articles written by Ms. Schwinn please visit the firm’s website atwww.paveselaw.com. Ms. Schwinn is an experienced employment law attorney and a partner with the Pavese Law Firm, 1833 Hendry Street, Fort Myers, FL 33901; Telephone: (239) 336-6228; Telecopier: (239) 332-2243.