Develop a Social Media Policy Before Trouble Starts
Social media and networking sites are exploding. Employees and companies are using these growing means of communicating over the Internet for marketing, customer service and a host of other purposes. But companies need to be aware of the risks posed by employee use of social media and manage those risks by putting clear policies in place.
A Deloitte survey earlier this year found that 55 percent of employees visit social networking sites and 20 percent said they do it while at work. Worse, one-third don’t think about the business implications of what they post on these sites. The problem is that if companies don’t adopt policies, employees can post anything they want about the company at any time, Javier Rivera-Carbone, a lawyer with Atlanta-based Fisher & Phillips, wrote in a recent article. In fact, companies can be sued for knowing that employees are running an offensive Web site or for failing to prevent them from putting child pornography on the Internet. Companies even can be liable for improperly accessing password-protected postings that contain content that leads the company to fire the person who did the posting. To protect themselves, companies should adopt a policy regarding social media use. You should make existing company policies apply to employees’ social networking activities, Rivera-Carbone said.
Those existing policies should address use of company computer systems, protect the release of confidential information and prohibit discrimination or harassment. Also, the policy should tell employees not to use the company’s name, logo or copyright-protected material in any postings. The same goes for client names and information. They should also make it clear that their postings about work-related issues are their own opinions and not those of the company. To further protect against problems, prohibit employees from using their company e-mail address on social networking sites unless the use of the site is solely for business or professional use. Don’t allow employees to post information about clients or specific projects on social networking sites. Prevent them from criticizing the company’s products or services. Don’t allow anything vulgar, harassing, defamatory or threatening about co-workers. And tell employees that they can expect the company to monitor postings on any social media site. Lawsuits will continue to abound in this area until the law evolves to address employees’ online postings. But employers can protect themselves by putting solid policies in place before those problems crop up.