The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a memo offering advice to companies on setting up a social media policy. In general, the advice warns companies to be specific in the policies and to avoid overbroad statements that can be construed as having a chilling effect on workplace speech. The memo examines the social media policies of several large companies, pointing out the portions that violate the law. The memo explores topics such as information security, protecting confidential information, and “friending” coworkers.
For example, the memo noted that one major retailer’s policy included a warning that employees not “release confidential guest, team member, or company information.” The NLRB warned that this was unlawful because it could reasonably be interpreted as preventing discussions of employment among workers.
Similarly, the memo explained that policy preventing employees from sharing confidential information with coworkers unless necessary to the job and from having discussions about confidential information in the breakroom, at home, or in open areas was too broad. Employees could take this as a prohibition against discussing the terms and conditions of their employment, even in their own homes.
However, this same company garnered kudos for the portion of their policy that advised employees to “develop a healthy suspicion” of those trying to elicit confidential information and to be wary if anyone asks them to violate “identification procedures.” Such a policy is legal, says the NLRB because it “merely advises employees to be cautious about unwittingly divulging such information and does not proscribe any particular communications.”
Another company’s policy was cited as overbroad for advising employees to “think carefully about friending coworkers.” Such advice was unlawful, according to the NLRB, because it would discourage communication among coworkers.
Though the policies of most companies mentioned in the memo served as cautionary tales, one organization, Wal-Mart, was praised for developing a policy that was entirely on sound legal footing. The NLRB included Wal-Mart’s policy in the memo as an example of how to write a social media policy.
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