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Ask About Employee Social Media Posts

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By Toolkit Staff | October 01, 2012

Dear Toolkit,

With so many of my employees constantly checking and updating their social media profiles, I'm worried it won't take much for them to post something unfavorable about my business. As an employer, what can I do to stop my employees from making disparaging posts that could hurt my business--and my ability to keep their pay checks coming?

Sincerely,

Socially Concerned 

Dear Socially Concerned,

Preventing your employees from making unflattering posts and taking action against employees who have belittled your company on social media are entirely different matters. Before you make blanket policies about your employees' social media activity—especially when they're out of the office—consider a few points.

Disparaging Social Media Posts Prevention

What employees post on social media during work hours is within your power to regulate. You have every right to ban employees from accessing social media from work computers and on your network. If you have no qualms with employees using social media during lunch, for example, you can restrict social media use to break times.

Of course, simply limiting social media to set periods of the day only restricts the time in which they could, potentially, criticize your business online. Some employers find the best prevention method is allowing employees to engage in social media at work, usually on the business's behalf. Either way, you can create social media etiquette guidelines for employees to follow when they're posting at work, such as requiring employees to:

  • Acknowledge all posts and opinions are solely their own by including a disclaimer on their social media profiles stating employees are not directly representing your company.
  • Always remain polite and courteous.
  • Abstain from profanity and sensitive topics, such as discussions of religion or politics.
  • Ensure any comments about your company are positive.
  • Keep social media posts work-related.
  • Never post trade secrets or internal company information.
  • Identify their positions in the company accurately.
  • Refrain from belittling competitors and competitors’ partners.

Disparaging Social Media Posts Retaliation

When employees mention your business on social media during their free time, the rules change. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has stated employers cannot categorically ban their employees from:

  • maintaining social media accounts and blogs
  • criticizing employers via social media
  • using employers' names or addresses in their social media profiles

That doesn't mean any criticism is acceptable—libel is libel. And some organizations have retaliated against social media posts that, they claim, have crossed the line. The CFO of Francesca’s, a chain of upscale women’s boutiques, was recently fired for inappropriate tweets. However, just because some social media activity merits termination doesn’t provide you the leeway to discipline or terminate employees for any ill-conceived social media use.

In late 2011, The NLRB issued a 24-page “Report Concerning Social Media Cases” (PDF). The Board is attempting to provide union and non-union workers the right to “protected concerted activity.” This boils down to allowing employees to discuss working conditions over social media. For example, if your employees approach you about a concern, they can discuss that concern on social media from their smartphones or non-work computers.

However, if an employee made inappropriate comments about your business that were irrelevant to the discussion of working conditions, the NLRB recognizes that as a fireable offense. Also, employees have strength in numbers—multiple employees making similar posts about working conditions after raising the issue to management is generally permissible whereas a single employee shooting off about work without sharing concerns with management is not.

Another caveat: Employees can use social media anonymously. Though you may think you know who’s behind a Twitter account that violates company policy, the onus is on you to prove authorship. Whenever you’re in a gray area with anonymous accounts or possible protected concerted activity, contact a lawyer before making any disciplinary or termination decisions. 



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