Issues to Consider When Implementing an Employee Social Media Policy

Employers realize that their employees’ behavior on social media can have a major impact on their reputation, and with a survey from the Pew Research Center indicating that almost three-quarters of adults use social media repeatedly throughout the business day, it is more important than ever to ensure that a social media policy is in place.

This ensures that employees are aware of acceptable online behavior and can help them to participate in supporting the brand professionally [Learn More]

In recent years, there have been countless examples of workers’ personal social media use resulting in workplace disputes and bad publicity from the top of major companies down. However, when it comes to instituting policies limiting employees’ use of social media, many people are unaware of what limitations there may be on the scope of these policies.

For several people, this comes from a misunderstanding of the freedom of speech afforded by the First Amendment. Despite what many may believe, the protection this right affords applies only regarding what the government may limit. This means that for those employed by a government entity, there may be significant protections on what an employee can say on social media, but for an employee of a private-sector employer, the First Amendment does not apply at all.

However, it is important to keep in mind that there are some limitations on what an employer can restrict. Most notably, federal law provides for “protected concerted” activity. This protects the right of employees to work together to address workplace issues and raise concerns with themselves and management. This applies both face-to-face and through social media. Beyond this, however, individual state laws can vary, but employers generally have a considerable degree of leeway in establishing their workplace policies regarding social media.

In the majority of states, an employer is permitted to fire at-will employees for off-duty behavior, including social media usage. A private employer is not required to maintain an employment relationship with workers whose conduct is offensive or who espouse views that contrast with the company’s culture.

However, it is important to establish a company policy for social media usage that clearly establishes some rules for social media usage. Important topics to address include:

Employee Roles: It is important to establish what official and unofficial roles are on social media. Employees should be aware that only those in an official capacity are permitted to speak on the company.

Offensive Content: What constitutes “offensive” behavior on social media? This should address what employees can say and establish standards for respect, honesty, confidentiality, and other expectations the employer holds for behavior on social media.

Legal Regulations: Some industries may face legal restrictions to what employees can or cannot say, and employees should be made aware of these.

It is important to keep in mind that how effective any policy regarding employee social media use comes down to how well it is communicated and enforced. For the policy to remain effective, it should be regularly reviewed and presented to all new hires.

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