Considering the rampant use of Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and similar social networking tools, regulating the communications of employees is more challenging than ever. Given the popularity of these social networking sites, employers now realize that these types of websites are affecting their workplaces in ways they hadn’t expected or anticipated. While employers often recognize the potential value of social networking sites and the benefits they can have (e.g., for promotion or making professional contacts), there are also significant problems posed by such sites, including loss of productivity and employees misusing online platforms to discuss inappropriate subject matter or to disparage employers or coworkers. For that reason, many employers are implementing social media policies to address employee use of social networking tools. These policies regulate the content that employees are allowed to post on such sites, and outline the accepted principles of social network communications.
The following is a guide to the basics of social media policies:
Why: Most social media policies are intended to prevent employees posting inappropriate content. This could include anything from racy pictures of the employee, to criticisms of coworkers or supervisors, to content that is actually illegal. Employers should tell employees that they will monitor employee use of social media, and that employees do not have a right to privacy with respect to social networking. Employees should also be informed that company policies regarding the code of conduct and unlawful harassment and discrimination extend to all forms of communication both inside and outside the workplace, and that posting inappropriate content online can lead to consequences at work.
What: A social media policy should include the following: guidelines on whether employees are allowed to use social media tools during work time; a prohibition against sharing confidential company information; a prohibition against posting illegal, derogatory, or defamatory content about others; a requirement that employees abide by the law and not post information indicative of illegal conduct; a requirement that employees respect the privacy rights of their coworkers when posting content online; and a statement that violation of the social media policy may be grounds for dismissal.
Who: An effective policy should apply to all employees. Employees should also be told that the employer’s rules and expectations with regard to the use of any communication medium (e.g., phones or email) extend to the use of social media tools.
Where: A written social media policy should be included in the employee handbook. An existing handbook can be revised to include a new social media policy, and then distributed to employees who must sign an acknowledgment of having received and understood the policies contained in the handbook. Alternatively, employees can circulate a new social media policy as a stand-alone policy, and require that employees sign off acknowledging their receipt of the policy. These acknowledgments should be retained in the employees’ personnel files.
When: Given the rate at which social networking sites are increasing in popularity, now is really the time to consider implementing a social media policy. Due to the prevalence of such sites, social media should be managed just like any other form of communication, and should be addressed in the same manner. A social media policy should therefore be an extension of a business’ existing practices with regard to media use.
If you have questions about social media policies, please contact any one of the attorneys in our employment group.
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