Newsletter Archive

An Employee Just Slammed You on Social Media. Now What?!

Unless you've gone completely off the grid, you have probably noticed that people have been talking a lot about their First Amendment Right to free speech in the United States of America. Unfortunately, most people don't know that their social media accounts are not necessarily protected under free speech or privacy laws. It is important to educate your staff on how they can and cannot use their social media accounts, so they know what to expect if they decide to air their professional grievances online.

What Should a Social Media Policy Include?

Given the vastness of social media and the ever-changing ways in which people use these platforms, writing a policy can be overwhelming. Every policy will be unique, but they should all address some very specific types of online behaviors such as:

  • Whether employees can access personal social media at work; when and how they may do so.
  • Whether employees can, may or should disclose their affiliation with the company. If yes, they should be provided with and required to post a legal disclaimer indicating their posts are their own and are not reflective of the views of the company.
  • Topics that should be avoided, even with the disclaimer in place. This may be things like politics, religion, current events, industry hot topics, competitors, etc.
  • If and how employees may use company logos and branded themes or images on their profiles.
  • Rules that govern the way an employee may and may not speak about the organization online.
  • Whether they are permitted to comment on customer posts to the company's social media accounts.
  • Prohibitions against:
    • Using company email to log in or sign up for personal social media accounts.
    • Sharing confidential company information.
    • Sharing information or making statements about clients and customers.
    • Posting or liking derogatory, defamatory or inflammatory content.
    • Posts or online behaviors that can be considered bullying or harassing.
    • Posting images or otherwise indicating they have engaged in illegal conduct.

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Keep in mind: according to the National Labor Relations Act, employers may not prohibit or interfere with employees discussing wages or working conditions on social media. They can, however, prohibit defamatory, inflammatory, abusive, offensive and other types of inappropriate posts, including personal complaints.

Developing a comprehensive policy that protects both the company and employees will require input from several areas of the organization. Leaders from every business area should contribute, as should the company's legal counsel. Before the policy is printed and put into practice, the legal team should always take one final pass over the document.

Strong Communication Facilitates Compliance

After the policy is created, it is absolutely essential to communicate the policy clearly and effectively to every member of the workforce. Formal training sessions should be scheduled where the policy is distributed and reviewed, and employees are provided the opportunity to ask questions. The team that developed the policy should be in the sessions, as should a member of the legal team.

Spend time covering speech that is protected and speech that is not protected. Educating staff on their rights and the rights of the organization can prevent a host of problems. Give each employee ample time to review the policy on their own time and ask questions as they dig in. Then, set a deadline for each team member to sign an acknowledgement that they have received, read and understand the policy. As the policy is updated over time, employees should be required to sign acknowledgement of receipt and understanding of those changes, as well.

What to Do When Discipline Is Required

Even if you have a comprehensive policy in place and you've communicated that policy effectively to your staff, you may experience issues with employees from time to time. Even with clearly defined social media policies in place, it can be difficult for employers to know what to do if an employee does something questionable online that reflects poorly on the company.

It is important to walk the fine line between treating everyone equally and applying rules uniformly – and doing both with discretion. For example, if an employee sends a "mean tweet" criticizing a newspaper reporter, but their association with your company is not made public on their profile and if they are not a high-level employee, that tweet may require disciplinary action, but would not necessarily be a terminatable offense. However, if the employee threatens to burn down your company headquarters with all of their co-workers inside, such a tweet would require immediate and swift action.

Discretion will always be necessary, but every policy should discuss the employer's right to such discretion, and legal advice should be sought any time termination is considered.

Developing a comprehensive social media policy takes time but in today's world, it is necessary to protect both your organization and the people who work for you.

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