Employer Policies on Social Media
When drafting a social media policy, employers must consider many factors in order to make sure that the policy is lawful, fair and aligns with the company's other employment policies.
The first and most obvious decisions that should be made is whether or not to allow social media access at all. Companies may consider allowing some access, open access or completely ban social media websites from employee access. Some companies have much higher security concerns than others, some companies have legal concerns when considering social media access for employees and some companies encourage their employees to use these sites and talk about what they are doing at work - each employer must decide individually what works best for them.
Once a decision has been made about the level of access for employees, even companies that have completely banned social media while at work must consider a social media policy for potential misuse of social media outside of work. However, before doing so, employers should familiarize themselves with the National Labor Relations Board's decisions and recommendations for social media policies to prevent any illegal policies from being drafted. For example, "The National Labor Relations Board says workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook" but "...the agency has also found that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet" (Greenhouse). There are several other cases that have been decided either in favor or against employers in cases of social media and all should be reviewed before attempting to tell employees what they can and cannot do.
A third important step in drafting up a social media policy is considering where the responsibility lies when it comes to actions of social media. It is fine to make employees responsible for their actions as long as they are aware what the policies are and have been given specific information as to what the policies mean. Ethan Zelizer suggests, "...employees should be warned about social networking and social media and their employment generally. Assuming you are an employment at-will employer, it is fair to state something like the following: “When outside the work place (whether it be on your home computer or with your personal e-mail address), you are still fully responsible for the content you post publicly" (Zelizer 8). The NLRB has suggested to companies that want to inform their employees about their specific policies to have social media workshops advising on what not to do.
A final step in drafting up a social media policy for a company lies in respecting the privacy of its employees. Generally, this a good rule for all company policies but particularly in this are where people generally tend to share more private information about themselves and their personal lives. Sticky situations can arise when employees connect on social networks outside of work, Zelizer address this as well when he says, "Employees should not feel obliged to accept Facebook “friend requests,” LinkedIn “connection requests” or any other social networking invitation. Such a request may be unwanted, unpleasant or in some cases, a form of harassment" (Zelizer 8). Additionally, employers should be aware of what information they actually have the right to view and concern themselves with. Just as it is important to protect the company's rights it is equally important to maintain employee morale and attract future employees by maintaining a reputation of not being over restrictive.