We all are somewhat familiar with social media outlets. There are so many – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and LinkedIn, to name just a few. It may be fun for employees to share photos and opinions and play games with their coworkers, friends and family worldwide but, it may also be very risky for employers. Social media are powerful communications tools that have a significant impact on organizational and professional reputations. Because they blur the lines between personal voice and the company’s voice, it is strongly recommended that companies develop a social media policy to help clarify how best to enhance and protect both personal and professional reputations when participating in social media. Finding a balance between allowing your employees to access these sites at work and putting a social media policy in place may prove challenging for employers.
It is recommended that social media policies include language that protects the company as well as its employees. Such language may include the following: All social media accounts, blogs, Web pages and related content carrying the company’s brand identity are and will be owned and licensed by the said company, as appropriate. Personal accounts, blogs, Web pages and related content that do not carry the company’s brand identity can be owned, licensed and operated by any employee. However, any and all use of the company’s name, logo, and/or related marks requires prior, express, written consent of the highest level executive in the organization. If the company is referenced in any media as approved by the highest level executive in the company or a designated manager, all social media guidelines must apply or employees may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.
Social media guidelines may include information that assists employees with making the right decisions when engaging in social media activities, specifically asking them to be respectful in their interactions through social websites. Employees should be informed that they should not post or link materials that are defamatory, harassing or indecent or that may contain confidential or proprietary information in regards to the company, its employees or clients. Guidelines should also include information when an employee is posting from a company’s online site. They may include items such as: reposting or referencing a post, providing a link to the original post or story, identifying their affiliation with the organization, what to do when encountering negative online posts, etc. Employees should also be given instructions on how to utilize disclaimers when posting content to any website outside of the company’s online presence.
Another item for employers to consider is whether to ask employees for their passwords to personal social media accounts. Today, there are twelve states with a “social media password protection” law. Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. These laws prohibit employers from asking applicants for their user name, password or other log-in credentials for their personal social media accounts, and all of the laws, except New Mexico’s, impose the same prohibition with respect to employees. Fifteen other states currently have bills pending that address the access to applicants’ and employees’ personal social media. Employers should make sure that they understand their state’s laws with regards to password protection whether it be for social media accounts or passwords required for the use of company-owned software.
Aside from putting a social media policy in place, employers need to make sure that they are frequently updating their policy and educating employees regularly. Both employers and employees need to understand that nothing that is posted to the Internet ever truly disappears, so it is wise to think twice before posting anything that may seem questionable. In general, all employees are responsible for their public behavior, including the use of the Internet, social media and any other forms of media either during or after working hours.
For additional information on social media or any other employment-related policy, please contact New Focus HR, LLC.
Written by: Kristen Shingleton Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP
February 4, 2014