Strategies for Regulating Electronic Communications: How to Create a Social Media Use Policy
Whether employees are communicating with friends outside the company or with co-workers and business partners regarding work-related projects, employers should have clear policies regarding the use of social media both in and outside the workplace. Employees—who may not realize they can expose employers to risk by posting information on blogs and private social networking sites during work or non-work hours—should be informed of potential risks and aware of the employer’s expectations.
The precise contours of an employer’s social media use policy will depend on the organization, its culture and approach to social technologies, and the nature of work performed. For instance, a social media use policy for educators may be very different from a policy aimed at employees who are encouraged to use social media for developing club member relations. However, there are some basic issues clubs should address when implementing a social media policy.
Employees should be warned that postings regarding: (1) proprietary and confidential club information; (2) discriminatory statements or sexual innuendos regarding co-workers, management, club members, or vendors; and (3) defamatory statements regarding the club, its employees, club members, competitors or vendors will not be tolerated and will subject the individual to discipline. Social media use policies should also make clear that if the employee mentions the club with which he or she is affiliated, he or she must also include a disclaimer stating that any opinions expressed are the employee’s own and do not represent the club's positions, strategies or opinions. The policy should specify that these prohibitions apply to postings and blogging occurring at any time, on any computer.
Clubs should also consider amending their handbook policies to provide a detailed explanation of what is considered “acceptable use” (i.e., business use only, limited personal use or unlimited personal use). Clubs can also implement a policy that reduces the level of privacy employees expect in their work computer systems, e-mail, and Internet use. Creating such a policy will reduce the risk of liability for an employer as well inform employees about expectations of privacy and provide the employer with more discretion to take action against employees who engage in misconduct.
Other provisions clubs may choose to incorporate into a social media policy include the following:
- Employees are expected to comport themselves professionally both on and off duty;
- Managers are prohibited from using any informal review systems on social networking sites (i.e., LinkedIn);
- Club policies governing the use of corporate logos and other branding and identity apply to electronic communications, and only individuals officially designated may “speak” (whether orally or in writing) on the company’s behalf;
- Employees must comply with all other club policies with respect to their electronic communications (such as rules against conduct that may result in unlawful sexual harassment, etc.);
- The club’s systems may not be used for any illegal activity, including downloading or distributing pirated software or data;
- The company reserves the right to take disciplinary action against an employee if the employee’s electronic communications violate club policy;
- A statement that the policy is not intended to interfere with rights under the NLRA;
- A reporting procedure for violations of the policy;
- Designate a management representative within the organization as the point of contact for policy violations or questions concerning the policy to ensure consistent application; and
- Notice that monitoring will occur in order to reduce an employee’s expectation of privacy.
A social media policy should be written with the assistance of counsel for distribution to all employees in employee handbooks, policy manuals (as a stand-alone policy), paycheck reminders, and annual or more frequent e-mail reminders. Employers may also consider requiring employee acknowledgments for receipt of all of the above. All policies must be accompanied by actual monitoring and uniform enforcement.