The majority of employees, young and old, are accessing social networking sites on a daily basis. We are often asked to speak about or advise employers on how their policies should be updated to deal with some of the negative consequences of employee access to social media – including breaches of privacy, disclosure of confidential information, bullying, and damage to business reputation or brand. Updating company policies to deal with social networking sites ensures that appropriate rules (and awareness) are in place. By doing this, employers will be better able to manage the legal liability and business risks, employees will be clear about their responsibilities to the company and their co-workers, and both employers and employees will be able to enjoy the communication and marketing benefits associated with employee use of a social networking sites. The following is a summary of some of the key components of a social networking policy.
- Make it clear that employee policies apply to all communications, including those made on social networking sites, whether such communications are posted during personal time at work or at home. For example, comments that would otherwise be inappropriate because they are considered insubordinate, constitute harassment or result in a poisoned work place should also not be posted on social networking sites (during or after work hours).
- Confirm that social networking discussions should not disclose confidential proprietary or business information (whether it be yours or that of your customers or clients). Employees should be warned that there are privacy laws that prohibit the disclosure of private information (including photographs) of co-workers.
- Because comments posted on social networking sites can spread virally, are searchable, and can stay online even if the original posting is removed, emphasize that employees are expected to use caution and good judgment when posting comments or information on social networking sites that can be identified or associated with the employer.
- Ensure that employees understand that social networking sites are not appropriate forums to engage in differences of opinion with respect to work-related issues, or engage in criticism of management, co-workers, customers or clients.
- Include warnings that violation of the policy may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.