Advice for Employers and Employees About Social Media Use


Every week, it seems like there’s another story or controversy surrounding a business and its use of social media. Whether it’s an ill-advised Tweet, improperly disciplining an employee for social media use or an employee venting irresponsibly, the gray area in this arena seems to be spreading like a (computer) virus. Ragan.com offers some tips on what you should consider when it comes to social media use. Keeping these concepts in mind may keep you out of trouble in the future:

1. Training and communication about corporate social media policies are essential: Some companies have no social media policy, but most have come to recognize that existing communication policies are insufficient to protect employers and employees from the nuances and unique risks of social media. Other organizations have a policy but fail to educate employees on the risks and ramifications of their actions in social media; this is almost as dangerous as having no policy at all.

Simply put, your employees—particularly younger ones who are social natives—are ill equipped to understand the corporate, regulatory, and legal risks of their social media activities. If you are not reinforcing to them what is expected, what will get them and the company in trouble, and the consequences of mistakes, your brand is accepting needless risks, and you are not doing your employees any favors.

2. Give employees every opportunity to vent in private and appropriate channels: Nothing a company does will prevent some employees from turning to social media to voice complaints, because social media sharing is second nature to too many people. Nevertheless, that should not prevent companies from trying to prevent as many social media problems as possible.

The answer is not to prevent social media access at work—employees all carry their social networks in their pockets or purses nowadays—but instead to furnish multiple ways for employees to share feedback within the company.

This includes passive solutions, such as offering intranet forums where employees may discuss concerns, and proactive solutions, such as organized employee gatherings and groups to collect feedback. The best solution is nothing new: strong, active, open, and engaged leadership that listens to employees.

3. Do not ask for candidates’ or employees’ passwords: Asking for employees’ and candidates’ social media passwords is problematic for several reasons. First, doing so might expose you to information that the person is in a protected group, which could then open the company up to a discrimination claim. Also, your organization could suffer a blow to its reputation if a candidate or employee discloses the practice.

In hiring situations, you might lose a qualified candidate concerned that your organization demonstrates a hostile and distrustful relationship with employees. Finally, this practice requires employees to violate Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which states, "You will not share your password… let anyone else access your account, or do anything else that might jeopardize the security of your account."

Some assert there are legal risks to asking employees and job candidates for their passwords. I am not a lawyer and cannot advise you on the legality of checking social media for information on candidates, but asking for passwords is a dangerous and risky policy.

If you’d like more information on this topic, the Indiana Chamber offers the Indiana Employer’s Guide to Monitoring Electronic Technology in the Workplace – 3rd Edition (authored by attorneys from Ogletree Deakins).

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