NEWS

Social Media and the Workplace

By John P. Quirke

Write a policy. If the company takes a neutral or positive stance regarding employee use of social media to discuss work, it must develop a policy to guide that use. Companies should not assume that employees know that they should not post confidential information or that they know to keep their posts strictly factual. By spelling out the rules in clear and concise language, companies can ensure that employees understand what is expected of them. The policy should make it clear to employees that they are company representatives and that they need to act appropriately in the virtual world—just as they would be expected to do at a corporate function.

Employers must be careful to define terms and provide examples to ensure that the policy is clear. Failing to do so can result in litigation. For example, the NLRB report discusses a case in which a nurse put a post on Facebook complaining about a colleague who frequently called in sick, creating extra work for the rest of the staff. The nurse was fired because she had “talked badly about the hospital” in violation of the hospital’s social media policy. The NLRB said that the policy in this case was too broad and provided no guidance as to what sort of social media discussions would and would not be appropriate.

In another case, however, the NLRB found that a company’s social media policy had the right to prohibit employees from communicating with media outlets and to require that they refer all requests to the company’s communications team. The policy, ruled the NLRB, was clearly designed and communicated to ensure that the company responded to the media with a unified message.

Educate employees.
As with e-mail, social media can be used effectively in the business setting. But employers should not assume that employees know all the pitfalls. The specifics of what is and is not appropriate should be reinforced through periodic training that focuses on particular aspects of the social media landscape.

Stress confidentiality. In addition to a social media policy, companies must incorporate references to social media into their confidentiality policies and other communications. Employees must be reminded to be hyper-vigilant regarding the information they post and ensure that the information is already in the public domain—or, at a minimum, not considered confidential or sensitive by the company.

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