Social Media – Ethics and Legal Considerations

As social media growth outpaces social media rules and/or regulations, challenges arise daily.  This week we’ll look at a couple of social media dilemmas in the form of some questions posed to our class.

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Should companies have a Social Media policy for employees?

I believe that it is acceptable and prudent for a company to include a social media policy as part of the employee handbook.  This policy should be carefully created for the purpose of guiding employee use of social media in the workplace or on corporate social media sites.  The goal of the policy should be to protect the company’s IP and maintain a positive corporate reputation.

These videos show some graphic examples of workplace misuse of social media using Vine.  In scenarios where users record Vine clips in a workplace, the public and/or competitors can certainly get an intimate look behind the scenes of a company – wouldn’t you agree?.  This type of behavior certainly puts a company in a very vulnerable position of losing trade secrets or damaging their reputation.

Are employees protected from voicing work concerns in social media?

It depends.

A February 11, 2014 article in the Philadelphia Business Journal brings to light a couple of recent examples of employer-employee conflict on this topic. On the flip side, flagrant misuse of social media will most certainly lead to dismissal. As an employer, I think it is acceptable to ask employees to be mindful of their social media behavior (just like their social behavior), especially as it relates to corporate IP and reputation.  However, a company cannot mandate what an employee says on social media, nor can they terminate for such reasons in many cases.

The Fine Line

In reviewing articles on both sides of this very sensitive topic, I’ve concluded that employers need social media-use polices for their own protection.  According to the NLRB, the following points are important for employers with consideration to employee social media activity:

  • Employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.
  • An employee’s comments on social media are generally not protected if they are mere gripes not made in relation to group activity among employees.

In summary, we all must be mindful that social media is a way to make an impression, not only for today’s employers, but for tomorrow’s potential employers.

Your comments and opinions are welcome!!

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