Instagram. Facebook. TikTok. Snapchat.  Four words that have not only changed today’s lexicon, but have also created new issues for today’s employers.  Incidents of “social media gone bad” are steadily appearing in workplaces and employers are struggling to strike an effective balance between protecting their businesses while still preserving their employees’ ability to freely express themselves.  A global airline recently went viral for its social media guidelines that employees perceived to effectively ground them in posting anything on social media.

How then should employers deal with employees who post their thoughts, observations, and opinions about the workplace on social media platforms?

1.         Know that basic principles of employment law will still apply

Although new social media platforms seem to be growing by the day, the basic principles of employment law are well established.  Posting comments on the internet that conflict with the employee’s duties of loyalty and fidelity, or the duty not to disclose the employer’s confidential information, will be grounds for discipline up to and including termination. 

2.         Consider creating a social media policy that strikes an effective balance

Often employees view their social media platforms as private places to express themselves, without fully appreciating how their posts can conflict with their employment duties or even jeopardize their employment.  Creating a social policy will help ensure employees are aware of their obligations.  The most effective social policy will have 10 key elements: 

  • A reminder to employees that employment duties will still apply;
  • A definition of social media;
  • Reference to company policies that are relevant to posts, such as respectful workplace policies, public communication policies, and confidentiality policies;
  • A reminder that social media is not always a secure or private form of communication;
  • Boundaries on whether employees can post from work, when, and using what devices;
  • What approval must be sought before representing the business on social media platforms or speaking on behalf of the company;
  • A warning that social media activities may be monitored;
  • A reminder that employees are responsible for what they post;
  • Consequences that may come from breaching the policy; and
  • A signed acknowledgement that the policy has been read and is understood.

3.         Contact website administrators

Administrators of social media platforms are keenly aware of their exposure when users post comments that are potentially defamatory or otherwise illegal.  Most contracts between administrators and users, in fact, will include provisions prohibiting the user from engaging in such conduct.  When an employee has posted information that is potentially damaging to the employer (or to other employees of the employer), the employer should first make a record of the posted information for investigation purposes and then contact the administrator to have the post removed (if the employee has not done so already). 

4.         Look before you leap

Employers should keep in mind that, in cases of suspected social media-related misconduct, conducting an investigation that involves providing the employee with the opportunity to respond to the concerns can be key in mitigating potential risk or liability.  Fake social media accounts and pages impersonating others are, unfortunately, included on the platform too. 

5.         Consider capitalizing on the craze

You can also consider whether your company can take advantage of these same social media sites.  Many groups use Facebook or Instagram to post announcements and provide information to their employees and customers.  These sites can also be used to gather constructive feedback – to find the pulse or word on the street – as people may be a little more open on social sites than they would be face-to-face or in more traditional surveys. 

Conclusion

Social media is not a passing fad, but a rapidly growing trend.  Learning how to address this trend in the workplace and use it for your benefit will help employers protect and promote their businesses.

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