Employer’s Guide to Social Media

Sally Sassy, one of your best customer service representatives, posts pictures on her Facebook page that show her drunk, in a skimpy bikini and kissing many different men, even though she is married. Several of your customers are her “friends” on Facebook.

Derek Downer, likes to post negative comments on My Space about everything, including his job with your company as a bookkeeper. He often talks about how he hates his boss, disapproves of his coworkers, and thinks your company’s latest project is doomed.

Gail Gossip has a personal blog where she chronicles all of her feelings about work, including stories about her coworkers’ professional and personal struggles. Her blog is open to anyone who wants to read it.

Hayden the Human Resources director at your business uses Linked In to network with others in your industry, including finding well-qualified candidates for openings at your company.

All of these employees are using social media on the internet, in some ways that benefit your company but in other ways that can damage your business’ reputation or even your profits.

As the employer, you can adopt a policy to instruct your employees as to which posts on the internet are appropriate and professional and which are not. The only legal restriction comes from the National Labor Relations Board, which prohibits employers from adopting policies that restrain employees from engaging in concerted activity or from forming unions. The NLRB says that you cannot impose blanket restrictions, such as “employees cannot post any negative comments about this company.” Employees are free to discuss salaries, working conditions or terms of employment in person or on the internet.

However, you can expect your employees to use good judgment on the internet. You can direct your employees to protect your company’s trade secrets and confidential business information. You can prohibit the use of your logo. You can also require them to be professional and respectful towards your customers and your other employees. You can require them to get the permission of others before mentioning them on the internet as a way of protecting the privacy of your other employees, vendors and customers who might be appalled to find their personal business posted without their permission.

You can also remind employees that your other policies should not be violated on the internet. For example, an employee who posts sexual comments on a coworker’s blog or Facebook page may be violating your company sexual harassment policy and can be disciplined for that. Your company ethics and values policies may also prohibit certain inappropriate actions.

You can also limit the use of company computers, networks and company time for social media activity. You do not have to allow your employees to spend hours per day on your business computer updating their personal blogs.

As with any employee activity that could turn ugly, the best advice is that you as an employer adopt a written policy now, publish it to all of your employees, and prevent the problems before they happen.

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