Employers have instituted many social media policies they expect their employees to abide by. They want to make sure when their employees are behaving themselves properly when they log onto Facebook or Twitter.

Employers assumed they had every right to place restrictions on their employees behavior online. However, the National Labor Relations Bureau has stated that some of their policies are in violation of the National Labor Relations Act and other laws. They have required some employers to change their social media policies accordingly.

Abiding By the NLRA

What are employers allowed to put in a social media policy?

The NLRB has started clarifying the laws employers must abide by when they set out any social media policies. There is still a lot of gray area, but the NLRB has at least tried to make their policies as clear as possible.

In a nutshell, employers have the right to set forth policies forbidding employees from spreading negative information regarding the company’s products or encouraging people to purchase those of a competitor instead. Understandably, they want to prohibit employees from saying anything that would affect the company’s sales.

In addition, the NLRB allows employers to institute policies that will prevent employees from doing anything that will cause any harm to the company image. Employers are given a lot of flexibility with setting up these policies. Their policies allow them to:

1. Disclosing trade secrets

2. Make any statements that are blatantly offensive (racist, obscene or explicitly sexual)

3. Making references to illegal drugs

4. Making libelous statements

What can’t go in a social media policy?

However, certain activities an employee may engage in are protected under law. Employees have the right to discuss any concerns they have regarding their working conditions. They also can say whether or not they are satisfied with their compensation. Several employers have tried to punish employees for discussing problems they had at work. The NRLB demanded they change their policy and agree not to discipline employees in the future.

Handling a social media policy

Smart Answers columnist Karen Klein establishes a set of guidelines employers should follow when they set up a social media policy. A few things they need to keep in mind include:

Disclose the policy to employees. Employers shouldn’t try to punish employees without making sure they are aware the policy exists. They need to make sure employees are clear on the policies ahead of time.

Do not attempt to access personal information. Karen Klein says some employers have attempted to access employees’ personal accounts to see what they have posted. Doing so is a violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. This can lead to civil and sometimes criminal charges. Employers need to be careful about accessing any password protected websites.

Clarify things for employees as much as possible. Rather than focusing on disciplining employees, employers should see what they can do to work with them. Give them clear guidelines on what types of behavior may get them into trouble. They won’t have to worry about a potential lawsuit if they never have to discipline an employee in the first place.

Before setting up a social media policy, employers need to consider the laws set forth by the National Labor Relations Bureau. They have every right to prohibit employees from making statements that may damage the company, but need to accept that employees are going to want to vent once in a while.

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