Monitoring Employee Social Media Activity at Work

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and the countless other social media outlets are still new enough that there are no general trends on how the courts and legislators view them with regards to employment and employee privacy regulations.
But it’s a pretty sure bet your employees are accessing one or more of their social media accounts at some point during the workday. A recent study by the Pew Research Center revealed 34 percent of employees surveyed use social media while at work to take a mental break from their job.

Social Media – Good or Bad?

You may be using social media to benefit your company by engaging customers, networking with colleagues, increasing website and blog traffic, and building brand awareness. And your employees can be great brand ambassadors on their own social sites as well as posting on company accounts and blogs, if they’re clear on what constitutes good online habits.
But there are potential liabilities, too. Employers can be held liable for actions their employees take within the course and scope of employment. If your employee posts false statements or rumors about a competitor or co-worker on Facebook, you might be exposed to potential defamation claims.

Establish Official Company Policies

Currently, there are no federal laws that prohibit an employer from monitoring employees on social networking sites. You can install software on company computers that does this, or hire third-party companies to monitor online activity. But to maintain trust among your employees, you should develop a social media policy that clearly defines acceptable behavior and whether your company will monitor access and usage at work.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you craft your social media policy:
  • Be specific about dos and don’ts. You can limit what your employees post online but be specific and make sure it’s relevant to your business. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has criticized overly broad social media policies that prevent employees from exercising their collective bargaining rights, by, say, talking about wages or working conditions. On the other hand, employee complaints are not protected if they are not made in relation to group activity among other employees.
  • Protect proprietary information. Educate employees about the harm that can be done if they reveal trade secrets, or announce a new product before it’s ready, or tip off marketing strategies in their posts, even if the sharing is not malicious. Remind them that once something is posted, it is difficult if not impossible to completely delete it.
  • Comply with state and federal laws. Employee online behavior must not violate privacy laws, or be discriminatory, or defamatory. Keep up with evolving federal and state regulations aimed at social media activity in the workplace.
  • Educate and enforce. Be upfront with your employees about how your social media policy helps to protect the company and employees from potentially damaging activity. Make sure all employees fully understand the policies and what the consequences are for violating the rules.

Game Plan

  • Several states have enacted legislation protecting employees and job applicants from employers that require them to provide a username or password for a social media account. The National Conference of State Legislatures website has a list of current state username and password laws.
  • For a look at how the National Labor Relations Board viewed the lawfulness of seven workplace social media policies, download this Operations Management Memo PDF.
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