The Legal and Ethical Issues of Social Media

Just like there are policies for employees to inform them of the expectations for things like dress codes, phone usage, and call-in procedures – there should also be a policy stating a companies clear expectations of social media use, but to the point of violating employee rights. It was well stated in the 2012 report by the National Labor Relations Board:

“Employer policies should not be so sweeping that they prohibit the kinds of activity protected by federal labor law, such as the discussion of wages or working conditions among employees.”

Some of the key points that should be outlined in a companies social media policy are:

  • Disclosure of confidential information
  • Protecting Co-workers privacy
  • Restrictions on pictures taken in the workplace
  • Disciplinary action that will be implemented

Companies have a lot to loose when employees use poor judgement.  Something as simple as a 6-second vine video can destroy that image over night.  Companies need to be aware of the ever changing social media platforms and sites like Vine to stay one step ahead of employee’s and put policies in place before any damage can be done.  For instance, a picture of a Taco Bell employee licking a stack of taco shells was posted on Facebook and ended up going viral.  No matter how much “damage control” Taco Bell tries to do now, that image is stuck in the minds of consumers.  Had there been stricter policies about using camera’s in production areas, they may have been able to prevent, or limit this type of bad exposure.

When employee’s are not at work, they have every right to voice their opinions about work on their private social media sites without concern of termination.  In one case, a bartender posted a comment on her Facebook page about her displeasure with the tipping practices at the bar she worked at.  The only person engaged in the conversation with her was one of her relatives.  Shortly after that post, she was told she was being terminated because of what she posted on social media.  The National Labor Relations Board concluded that since no other employee was involved, it was not seen as a legitimate termination.

Sources:

http://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/news-story/acting-general-counsel-releases-report-social-media-cases

http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/social-media-in-the-workplace-infographic/75125?red=st

http://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/news-story/acting-general-counsel-issues-second-social-media-report

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