As the popularity of social media has exploded over the past few years, texting, tweeting and posting on Facebook have quickly replaced the age old tradition of venting at the ‘ol water cooler.
In fact, easy access to social media has substantially changed the way people communicate, especially in the workplace. Now, when employees feel the need to gripe about their colleagues or voice a grievance against an employer, for example, they no longer reach just reach out to a couple of buddies in the break room. Anyone with Internet access or a cell phone in hand can reach hundreds, if not thousands, of people with their complaints with the touch of a button.
Can my employees pose a threat to my business?
While social media provides endless opportunities for friends to keep in touch and perhaps share cute family photos, it also can create the opportunity for employees to jeopardize or embarrass your company. It’s very simple, for example, to spread large scale rumors about a business through negative postings. It’s also easy to publish embarrassing photos of co-workers on a personal or company site. And most damaging to your company, perhaps, could be an employee who reveals proprietary information or insider tips which could ultimately affect business prospects.
Many companies feel forced to create social networking guidelines
In response to the potential security risks unregulated social media can create, companies of all sizes have found the need to change employee social networking guidelines. School systems, government offices and large corporations such as Costco, Target and General Motors have recently felt the need to create company-specific regulations.
According to Proskauer Rose’s second annual “Social Media in the Workplace Around the World 2.0” report, 68.9 percent of employers in 2012 said they had to create policies specifically to regulate social media use, a 13.8 percent increase from the previous year. According a survey of nearly 250 multinational businesses last year, 35.8 percent of employers felt the need to monitor social media use. This was an 8.4 percent increase from 2011.
The New York Police Department (NYPD), for example, recently issued guidelines for how it expects officers to behave when using social media. The officers, according to the New York Times, are prohibited from posting photos of other officers or tagging themselves in uniform on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Only exception noted in the three-page document was if the photo was taken during an official police ceremony.
Some groups have put on the brakes on what can be said on social media while on the job using company equipment. The Philadelphia Police Department policy, for example, includes activity on city equipment. If something is posted while the employee should be working, then they should not expect or assume privacy or confidentiality. In addition, if the worker identifies him or herself as working for the city, they must note their opinions are their own and do not reflect that of the city.
Typically, companies seek to depress negative and unconstructive comments. In order to do this, it’s important you openly discuss the implications of divulging corporate information and/or criticizing the company, managers or fellow co-workers.
While creating standards can be vital for both company security and workplace productiveness, limiting your employees’ mode of expression has become a bit controversial. As many companies have discovered, there’s a fine line between trying to protect your business and violating the rights of your employees.
National Labor Relations Board halts restrictions
In reaction to the firing of employees over the years for making disparaging remarks about their employers and/or co-workers, the National Labor Relations Board has recently stepped in. Workers, the board indicated, have 5th Amendment protection allowing them to chat about work conditions without fear of punishment, whether they are at work or at home using social media.
While the right to speak out is protected, companies are finding there is a ‘grey area’ when it comes to how much the employee is permitted to divulge.
You can’t fire someone, for example, for revealing who spilled the 2-liter bottle of soda in the company kitchen, but you can restrict the sharing of confidential company information. You can’t fire an employee for whining about a co-worker’s performance, but you can terminate a worker for using social media to threaten bodily harm.
Another fine line brought to light by the National Labor Relations Board ruling: companies are not allowed to adopt broad social media policies that ban posts that criticize an employer if the regulation interferes with a worker exercising their right to communicate with one another with an aim to improve wages, benefits or work conditions.
Putting the brakes on social media
So how can you protect your business from the possible negative implications of a careless or vengeful employee? As an employer, it’s essential your workers understand what their restrictions are. You need to carefully construct balanced social media guidelines that don’t impede on rights and clearly communicate your expectations. Remember to investigate local requirements and privacy laws when constructing these guidelines.
Guidelines to help safeguard your company
To protect your company, it is recommended you implement the following:
- Set forth official social media guidelines complete with acceptable and unacceptable usage. Be sure to include what can be said inside and outside the workplace and in the event of termination.
- Develop guidelines regarding personal versus work-related accounts to include photos, language and the sharing of company and personal information.
- Employees need to know whether they are allowed to use social media during work hours and any regulations.
- If you plan to monitor social media usage, be sure the employee is aware of the policy set forth and the extent and nature of possible monitoring.
- While social media gives you a glimpse of an employee, be careful not to make employment-related decisions only based on what you see posted.
Implementing Social Networking Guidelines can guard your company from unwanted exposure and loss of business. Is your company protected?