Ever since social media became popular back in about 2004, there has been growing concern among employers about the amount of time employees spend online.
It’s one thing for workers to do it during their breaks, but the medium has evolved to the point where some employees can spend the entire day looking as if they are working and achieving nothing in that time.
This issue has been a major bone of contention with employers, who, over time, have introduced a range of policies aimed at limiting the amount of time workers spend being social.
The Monitoring Mess
You can’t manage what you don’t know, so monitoring has a big role in reducing employees’ social media usage during work time and controlling what they do with it. Many companies have tried to monitor their staff’s activities, to determine whether they are genuinely on social media or are spending their time on work.
Where Are We Now?
Currently, there are no federal laws that prohibit an employer from monitoring employees on social networking sites. It’s possible to do so simply by installing software on company computers or hiring third-party vendors to monitor online activity.
Some companies take the step of blocking access through the network to specific sites, such as Facebook, for example, but of course that doesn’t prevent employees from accessing the platforms using a mobile device.
So, the question becomes, what actions can you take with regard to employees’ use of social media in the workplace?
Crafting a Clear Policy
To maintain trust among your employees, it’s best to have a clear social media policy that outlines what your company considers acceptable behavior. Some of the topics such a policy should cover include:
- Workers are legally not allowed to disclose proprietary information about either the company or their coworkers, not even on their own social media accounts. In December, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided that this provision was justified, citing respect for colleagues as the reason.
- Content - The NLRB’s reversal determined that inappropriate communications were not lawful, which included the company’s disparagement, posting photos of coworkers without express consent, and using the company’s logo to run down people or causes.
- Employee Rights. A company’s social media policy should provide details of when and where employees may (or may not) use social media, such as during certain hours or while they are in specific locations. The reason for this is so that workers understand what they can do and when. A worker should be able to post on social media during a work break using their own device, for example, unless they are in a confidential location or posting inappropriate content.
- Employees can be charged if they use the company name to endorse, support, defame, or make any comment whatever about anyone else. This applies regardless of whether the victim is a company, person, product, cause, or an opinion. To be enforceable, a social media policy needs to make the difference very clear between what is considered a worker speaking for the company vs. speaking for themselves.
- Information Sharing. In addition to proprietary and confidential information, employees are not allowed to share compensation information. This doesn’t mean employees can’t discuss it among themselves or with a union, but it does mean they can’t post it on a public forum for the world to see. This is also a safety factor. Certain industries need to protect the location of their workers from prying eyes for the security of all parties concerned.
Most business owners wish their employees would keep their work and personal lives separate, but it’s not safe to assume that will happen. If you are concerned that your staff may be spending too much work time on social media or worry about exposure through an unintentional act, you can create a policy aimed at informing them when and how they can do so and minimizing the harm of interaction by including approved criteria like the points above.
Primary Pros and Cons
Creating a policy like this has several pros and cons, of course. Benefits include being able to collect usage data about the staff, including some personal information, and having recourse to fall back on if you discover they have tweeted something potentially damaging about your company. Disadvantages, however, include the loss of employee privacy. That is because an algorithm or application designed to track an employee’s social activities might unwittingly gather personal biometrics or health information.
It will be a fine line for companies to navigate between corporate social media policies and employee rights, and many states are already grappling with the issue. For any company executive team currently strategizing for the coming 12-24 months, it is essential to decide how your positions on social media usage and representation align with your company ideals. And then, make the policy an integral part of your employment process.
The information and services on this website are not intended to and shall not be used as legal advice. You should consult with qualified legal counsel before acting on any of the information and services in this newsletter or website.