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Protecting Your Business from Social Media Dangers

An employment attorney can help before issues arise in Illinois

“Social media has had a profound impact on the workplace,” says employment attorney Erinn Rigney. “Ten to 15 years ago, people had a different idea of what work meant. They would show up at an office building, complete their tasks and leave for the day. Work was typically not on their minds when they went home, and they certainly weren’t communicating with work through emails, phone calls or text messages.”

There is also unsanctioned use of social media accounts by employees communicating with one another or supervisors that businesses should consider when writing policies. “This unsanctioned use can bring up a lot of different issues as to where harassment can occur in the workplace,” Rigney says. “Simply because, at times, even when off site, if it’s a communication between co-workers or a supervisor, there is the possibility for harassment to occur, even through social networks. Business owners could be on the hook for liability even if the two parties weren’t in the building or communicating during normal business hours.”

Additionally, there are issues concerning the National Labor Relations Act. Employees are allowed to engage in protected, concerted activity, so these policies that attempt to limit what employees do on their own time may violate federal statutes.

To avoid mistakes, “this all takes a well-drafted social media policy, as well as mandated training on social media use—especially for tech companies, sales and startups that require the use of social media, and then training on workplace harassment which has been very big recently since the advent of the #MeToo movement,” says Rigney.

While harassment has certainly been around for many years, it is something that a lot of companies have implemented more training to ensure employees are aware that there are anti-harassment policies and what to do when you are subjected to that type of behavior in the workplace.

General principals would be to have a social media policy that is tailored to the industry the company is involved in. If your business is a factory that doesn’t use social media much and has no online presence, your policies will look very different than those of a tech or sales company that is encouraging the use of social media platforms with their employees.

“It’s important to take stock of your workforce’s tech literacy level,” says Rigney. If you have a bit of an older workforce, they may need more of an explanation of what social media’s purposes are and why privacy settings are important. Those that have not grown up with social media as a central part of their lives may need a primer about social accounts. On the other hand, if you have a younger workforce, you should certainly take into account their affinities and abilities within the social media management world when writing your policies.

“Each company is different, so it is difficult to speak on specifics of what each social media policy should contain,” Rigney says. “If this is a public company verses a private company, there will be different considerations because there are federal disclosure laws under the SEC that may be violated by a social media post of sensitive information, where a small local business probably doesn’t have those types of concerns.”

If you are an employer that sanctions, or even encourages employees to promote products and services on social media platforms, be certain to contact a reputable and experienced employment attorney when you implement social media policies and procedures. They can advise you on additions to your employee handbook, and ensure you are compliant with laws on a state and federal level. You want to make sure that you have everything covered and that you’re engaging in these procedures within full compliance with the law. 

For more information about this area, see our overview on employment law for employers.

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