In this digital age, stories of employees who made disparaging remarks about their employers and were immediately given the boot are not in short supply. Kimberley Swann was fired in 2009 after calling her workplace boring. Dawnmarie Souza was fired after making remarks about her employer on Facebook. In 2015, a Texas teen was preemptively fired over Twitter when she complained about starting her job.
It’s not difficult to see the pattern here. The internet brings people together, and it’s human nature to complain about work. But what was once private conversation between friends now has the ability to be seen by just about anyone, which presents a problem for employers.
There exists a perception that when your employee is acting inappropriately online, it can reflect badly on you. Even more people have been fired for making offensive statements not at all related to their workplace. It seems the logical solution would be to discourage work-talk on social media. Except that is not within your authority. In fact, it’s illegal.
So what is an employer to do?
Fortunately, you do have some measure of recourse. You may gently remind employees to speak thoughtfully, and that certain types of speech could have severe repercussions. However, it is in your best interest to remember that 23 states have implemented social media privacy laws for employees, so seek expert advice when drafting social media policies to avoid overstepping legal requirements.
Clear as mud? Let’s begin with what you can do.
- Maintain control over your company’s social media accounts. You have this right as the employer.
- Respect employees’ privacy, even if what they say is public. Monitoring any employees’ posts sends a message of mistrust.
- Encourage employees to avoid statements that could be construed as harassment, defaming, libelous, or threatening. Tell them that they aren’t to represent that they speak for the company or post confidential information.
And here’s a handy list of don’ts.
- Avoid following your staffers online. This is a difficult step, but a necessary one to protect you and your business. If you learn something about your employee through their personal account—something you wouldn’t have known otherwise—this could mean trouble down the line, should that employee be dismissed. Do not unnecessarily make yourself vulnerable to legal action. Though you may really enjoy your employee’s company, it’s best to maintain a professional relationship.
- Do not restrict concerted activity. Social media policies, according to the National Labor Relations Board, should not be so sweeping that they prohibit or discourage the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law. So your employees are indeed allowed to discuss wages, salary, and working conditions.
- Don’t ignore the laws. While state laws are not identical across the board, most share a common theme. As in, employers can’t request their employees’ login and passwords. You can’t require or request that an employer or applicant add you to their contacts or friends list. You shouldn’t attempt to access private accounts. And you cannot discipline employees for refusing to give you access to their social media accounts.
We know this seems restrictive. Though employees are guaranteed basic protections, it is incredibly important for employers to maintain comprehensive social media policies that clearly outline your rights as an employer under what is allowed by law. The professionals at TPC are here to help not only in forming the policy, but ensuring you remain compliant as laws and regulations change. Contact TPC to have your policy reviewed, or get started on your policy by visiting us online.