A key defense in mitigating employee-related risk are clearly-written and comprehensive workplace policies. A well-written policy concisely communicates workplace rules to supervisors and employees alike. It provides the foundation for training supervisors in applying these policies and documenting violations, as well as training for employees. From a practical standpoint, it makes sense to explain expectations and consequences. But there are also legal implications, and even the U.S. Supreme Court favors clearly-communicated rules (see City of Ontario v. Quon, No. 08-1332, 560 U.S. ____ (2010)). Because of the important role of policies in mitigating business risk, this blawg will address several essential policies in the coming weeks.
This post addresses Social Media Policy.
Web 2.0 has revolutionized user interaction with the internet: MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others provide affinity forae for individual and corporate users. This technology has also given rise to serious employer concerns surrounding improper employee use of social media. These concerns include release of confidential business information; and disparagement of other employees, product, or even clients.
So what should guide management in crafting a Social Media Policy?
STEP ONE – Reasonable Rules. The first step begins with assessment of the risks inherent in your industry as well as the particular business. This assessment allows the policy to be premised upon reasonableness, and the law favors workplace rules that are reasonable. Your inquiry and analysis should include at a minimum the presence and scope of confidential business information, access of employees to this proprietary data, whether the business and/or industry is tightly-regulated, number of employees and whether the business is a union-shop, and more (examples of tightly-regulated industries include banks and medical providers).
STEP TWO – Training. One your policy is crafted, your supervisory staff should receive training on how to even-handedly apply the policy to the workplace, as well as how best to meticulously document violations. It is likewise key that the policy is clearly communicated to all employees. This way, you ensure to the extent possible that each employee understands the policy, what’s acceptable and what’s not, as well fully comprehend the consequences for violating it.
If your business is a union shop, discussion of a policy with labor representatives is a permissive subject of communication (as opposed to mandatory subjects, such as wages and hours). See Arbitrating Social Media Cases for more details.
So, the rule of thumb in crafting any workplace policy – including Social Media Policy – is reasonable rules commensurate with business risks in a well-written and clearly-communicated comprehensive policy, followed by appropriate supervisory and employee training. Following these steps should go a long way toward mitigating business risks associated with improper social media use by employees.