(the Elements of an Effective—and Legal—Social Media Policy)

As the popularity of social media continues to explode, companies across the country have scrambled to develop a social media policy that makes sense for their business and industry.  The purpose of a social media policy is for an employer to provide guidance and baseline expectations to all employees who engage in social media.  When creating a social media policy, you should consult a lawyer.  At its core, every social media policy should begin by very clearly establishing the following three things: (1) a definition of social media; (2) a policy regarding whether the employer will allow an employee to engage in social media in the workplace; and (3) a warning that employees who do not follow the policy may be disciplined and terminated.  Once these three core elements are established, there are numerous other considerations and best practices that should be set forth and tailored to fit the needs of each individual business. 

If you decide to permit Social Media at the workplace, you should consider:

  • Providing guidance on appropriate activities and training that informs employees of the risks of improper Social Networking;
  • Requiring employees to maintain separate personal and business Social Media accounts and prohibiting “friending” customers on personal accounts;
  • Requiring employees to obtain written permission before speaking on behalf of the company;
    • Educate and strongly encourage your employees to make use of social media privacy and security settings.

Even if you do not support or encourage social media at the workplace, the policy should:

  • Prohibit posting anything that can be construed as harassment, discrimination, defamation or threatening behavior toward coworkers or customers;
  • Inform employees that their use of company computers may be monitored and that employees have no expectation of privacy when using the company’s computer systems;
  • Prohibit supervisor-to-employee “friending” and the posting of references on sites like LinkedIn;
  • Prohibit the use espionage, coercion, or similar means to obtain employees’ personal Social Media passwords or access to secured sites;
  • Prohibit disclosure of confidential information or private information and include clear guidelines related to the collection of private information;
  • Remind employees that all other company policies continue to apply when taking part in social media, including records retention policies.
  • Prohibit the use of company logos, brands, uniforms, etc. without written authorization;
  • Prohibit employees from making disparaging remarks about the company.
  • Require employees to be respectful to coworkers and the company in general.
  • Inform employees that they may be personally liable for what they post online.
  • Inform employees that if they make any comments about the company, its products, or services in social media, they must disclose their relationship with the company.  Companies should monitor to ensure that its employees are, in fact, making said disclosures, and act to rectify any that do not.
  • Any statements that an employee makes about the company, its products, or services will be considered advertising for the company.  Do not allow employees to make claims (about the company or competitors) or make offers that the company cannot make itself.
  • If comments (responsive or otherwise) by third parties about the company are negative, do not allow employees to respond to them.  Consult with the PR team immediately, and handle as swiftly as possible but in a coordinated and thoughtful manner, with oversight by the senior team.  Sometimes not responding at all is the best response.

If you use social media to investigate and screen potential new employees, you should:

  • Use someone other than the decision maker do the search and report only the relevant findings – not information such as protected characteristics.
  • Be sure to subject all candidates to the same check at the same point in the application process and document the reason for rejecting candidates based on screenings.
  • Do not employ questionable tactics to gain access to profiles and other information (including “friending” an applicant or employee for the primary purpose of investigation.
  • Do not attempt to obtain passwords or access to the applicant’s profile from other employees.