Social media: Where personal and professional can collide

In today’s world, social media increasingly blurs the line between our professional and personal lives. Fuzzy boundaries can create some sticky situations for employers and employees alike.

tweet-155281_640All it takes is one ill-conceived post or tweet – or even just something taken out of context – to tarnish an employee or a company’s reputation. Just ask Justine Sacco, a former communications director at media company IAC, who lost her job over an offensive tweet about Africa in 2013. Locally, Norton Healthcare fired an employee who posted inflammatory remarks on Facebook about riots in Ferguson, Mo., last year.

As an employer, social media can be your best friend – or your worst enemy. It’s great when employees spread the good word about your workplace, your product or services, their volunteer efforts in the community and so on. But it can be a nightmare if they are divulging company secrets, cyberbullying co-workers or just simply engaging in inappropriate or embarrassing behavior.

A social media policy benefits both employers and employees. A good policy will establish guidelines and expectations, but it needs to walk a fine line. Policies can’t be so restrictive that they violate employment law such as the National Labor Relations Act.

Broadly speaking, here are some items a policy should address:

  • Require employees to act respectfully and responsibly. The Internet is forever. Screen shots, retweets and shared posts make it nearly impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Privacy settings on social media are ever-changing and offer no guarantees. Even if employees don’t have their company listed on their social media accounts, a quick Google search makes it easy to piece together who works where.
  • Define social media. Does it include blogs (Twitter and Tumblr, for example)? What about personal websites?
  • Define what types of company information is confidential and not allowed to be shared on social media.
  • Clarify whether employees are allowed to comment on company matters on their private accounts. If so, is a disclaimer and disclosure required?
  • Outline whether use of social media is allowed at work or on company computers or phones.
  • Explain what employees should do if contacted by the media via social media. Who is allowed to speak on the company’s behalf?
  • Spell out consequences for policy violation.

Human-resource consulting firms can assist you in developing a policy. If you go the DIY route, you can find policy examples and templates online. Be sure to have your policy vetted by an attorney with experience in employment law. After all, it does not good to protect your reputation online  only to be sued by an employee for violating her rights or labor law.

Lisa Jessie

C2 Business Strategist



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