Tag: employee confidentiality

Why Employers Need a Social Media Policy

Internal company policies are designed to articulate rules where laws either do not exist or where laws are not specific enough.  Sexual harassment is a prime example of where laws lack specificity. To avoid litigation, an employer must “take reasonable care” to:  1) prevent sexual harassment, and 2) promptly correct sexual harassment that has occurred.  To “take reasonable care” is not specifically defined, but there are deliberate steps that employers can take to easily satisfy this requirement.  One of those is to have a policy communicated clearly to employees.

What about social media?  The legal system is still behind and very slow in catching up to address employee versus employer rights when it comes to Facebook, in particular.   A teacher’s aide in Michigan, who had posted a picture last year of a co-worker’s pants down around her ankles, has been suspended because she refused to give her Facebook password to her employer.  A teacher in Illinois was fired from her job for posting a comment on her Facebook page stating that she felt like she was teaching “the next generation of criminals”.  Where does the right to privacy and free speech begin and end?

Laws and courts have yet to decide.  However, there is movement.  For instance the Illinois House of Representatives recently passed a bill that prohibits employers from asking employees for their social media passwords (pending in the State Senate), and other states are following the lead.  Where does that leave employers?  Make your position clear with employees by publishing and clearly communicating a Social Media Policy.  Start by having a Policy that addresses the following 4 subjects:

1.     Confidentiality

  • Employees are not Company spokespeople.
  • Company information is the Company’s property.

2.     Company References

  • Employees are allowed to speak about the Company (1st Amendment).  But, employees should inform their manager in advance.
  • Company property (IP and otherwise) is the Company’s property.

3.     Competitive Activities

  • Employees cannot compete with the company.  And, this certainly means via personal websites even if the activity is “off-hours”.

4.     Privacy Rights

  • Employees are required to respect others.
  • Even if respectful, employees are required to identify themselves.

Until our legal system delineates right from wrong, help protect your business and your employees.  HRInsights recommends that you make your Social Media Policy clear.  Like other company policies, make certain to update it to reflect changes in regulations and laws, include it in your company’s employee handbook, and communicate it regularly.


Social Media Policy

Even just a few years ago, many company managers rightly assumed that a Social Media Policy was all about limiting employees’ use of the internet. The priority was to prevent workers from spending company time buying on-line, conducting personal business on-line and, truth be told, watching pornography. It was all about e-mail and personal internet use. Now however, with the growing importance of the internet to a company’s marketing efforts and even now as a distribution and sales channel, it is prudent for small businesses to clearly articulate and communicate their Social Media Policy.

HRInsights would ask you to consider the following 4 subjects when developing your small business Social Media Policy. For those old enough just take out the word “social”, and you might see a rough version of the company’s former Media Policy.

1. Confidentiality:

  • No employee or other compensated representative of the company is able to speak on behalf of the company to any outside individual or organization, whether they be a partner, supplier, competitor, customer, or member of the press without his/her manager’s permission. If you are approached, please refer the inquiring party to the General Manager or other person who has been designated to handle outside inquiries.
  • No employee or other compensated representative of the company can share or otherwise publish confidential and/or proprietary information about the company. This includes but is not limited to information about employees, existing products, new products, services, trademarks, strategies, financial information, and any information that has not been publicly shared by the company.

2. Company References:

  • Inform your manager if you intend to develop a site or a blog where you mention and/or provide opinions and perspectives about the company, its employees, partners, competitors, customers, or current or future products.
  • Company logos, artwork and trademarks are not allowed to be used in employee personal communication in the internet, blogs, or in other social media unless otherwise approved in writing by your immediate supervisor.

3. Competitive activities:

  • Employees or compensated representatives of the company are prohibited from selling, distributing and/or promoting the sale of products and/or services that compete directly with the company’s products and service.

4. Privacy Rights:

  • Employee communications over the internet, in blogs and other social media must show respect to the company, its products and services, other employees, suppliers, customers, distributors. Wrongful statements or misrepresentations of any above-mentioned constituent which is not viewed favorably by management can result in disciplinary actions up to and including termination.
  • Employee communications over the internet, in blogs and other social media must identify the author as an employee of the company and must contain an appropriate disclaimer that his/her views are personal and not intended to represent those of the company and its employees.
  • Out of respect for privacy, it is always good practice to get written permission from those parties and/or individuals who are mentioned in communications published over the internet.