The law is constantly evolving when it comes to employer-employee social media interactions. Do companies have any rights over what current or former employees broadcast over the Internet? How far can (and should) you go to prevent negative comments or misrepresentations? There are a few things you should know when considering which aspects of social media actions you can control.
The rise of social media popularity poses a series of potential complications for employers. Employee productivity and conduct is easily hindered by the use of social media during work hours. Negative images or remarks on an employee’s social media profile harm a company’s reputation. Employers can be accused of harassment if not careful about the way they access and view workers’ social media sites. Finally, employers can be found liable for the poor online conduct of their employees.
When Can An Employee Use Social Media?
What does the law have to say about all this? The individual’s freedom of speech and right to privacy generally outweigh concerns of the company. This is bad news for employers.
What you can do is restrict the use of social media sites while employees are on your time. This at least curtails loss of productivity during the work day. What you can’t do, however, is 100% monitor or control the content your employees post online during their personal time. This is where the real issue lies, and where the law remains vague.
Companies may not hinder employees’ rights to band together to voice genuine complaints, form unions, etc. Because every case regarding social media is unique and judged on its own merits, the way you portray your intentions is crucial. If your intentions step on your employees’ rights, you aren’t likely to win your case in court. However, if you have a legal, transparent social media policy that clearly defines guidelines to which both the employer and employee have agreed, you have a case if your employee breaches the agreement.
Create A Policy
There are steps you can take to ensure your employees understand your social media policies and to hold them accountable for misconduct, if needed. You must have a social media policy on paper. Additionally, it’s a good idea to have both parties sign the policy upon entering into an employer/employee relationship.
Consider the following guidelines when creating your policy:
- Include phrasing that states the policy is not intended to restrict employees from participating in activities that fall under their rights (such as discussing hours, working conditions, and wages with coworkers).
- Be specific regarding activities considered inappropriate under the policy. Broad or vague wording is open to interpretation, something you don’t want if a situation ends up in court.
- Remember that, under the law, employees have the right to discuss their working conditions with other employees, even if the tone of the discussion is negative, angry, or unprofessional.
- Make sure employees are aware that online conduct outside of the office could breach the social media policy if it breaches other policies, such as the bullying of coworkers.
Don’t take on the task of drafting your own social media policy without guidance. This is a grey area of the law, and if you aren’t careful, you leave yourself open to reputation damage. Call Company Counsel to help you create a detailed policy that protects you and your company in social media situations.