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:
- 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.