Designing a Social Media Workplace Policy: Part I

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Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives

Workplaces have changed dramatically since the 60's

Whether you use it or not, you’ve probably noticed a massive transition to social media and an increased need for employers to develop social media policies. With this transition comes many complexities for businesses and their employees.  Can an employee access their Twitter account while at work? Are employees allowed to comment about workplace environments on their Facebook pages?  The answer is tricky, and employment law can often differ from state to state. The key for businesses in accommodating the constant evolution of social media use is to know both federal and state law regarding this kind of activity and to develop a commonsense company social media policy.

The Legality of Using Social Media In and Out of Work

Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a claim against American Medical in Connecticut for violating federal laws that prohibit employers from terminating employees for private communications.  Similarly, a Manhattan law firm has recently filed suit against J.P. Morgan Chase alleging that they wrongfully terminated an employee for writing novels and blogs under a pseudonym.  The firm claims that J.P. Morgan violated New York Labor Law Section 201, which proscribes discrimination against employees for engaging in lawful recreational activities outside the workplace. The prior case was privately settled so it is not quite sure if any precedents were set, however the NLRB did make its position clear. Attorney Anthony Haller, chair of the employment, benefits, and labor practice group at the law firm Blank Rome in Philadelphia, points out that the two mentioned cases are unique in that they involved activity that occurred outside of the workplace, but further says that companies generally and legally own all communications that occur on their networks and that there is “no expectation of privacy for the employee.”  The moral of these cases is to think twice before accessing any social media portal while at work and although it may be legal, to always use your better judgment when posting content outside of work.

Social Media is Here to Stay

Social media (Web 2.0) is not a fad.  Its creation has incredibly changed the way we communicate on a daily basis and has provided new opportunities for businesses to reach consumers.  Because of this, a company’s goals in developing a social media policy should not be to stifle its use, but to take advantage of it while protecting company interest and minimizing potential risk.

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