HR Policies & Procedures

Eliminate Worries About Social Media Liability with Strong Policies

Social media in the workplace presents the age-old dilemma: Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

When employers were asked to identify the most “potentially problematic” policies in the 2015 Policy Survey by Business and Legal Resources, 36.4 percent listed social media policies as their top concern. Just a few years earlier, nearly half (47 percent) of Fortune 1000 chief HR officers reported that their organizations didn’t even have social media policies, according to the 2013 Chief HR Officer Data Survey compiled by Consero Group.

Those statistics show how many employers are putting themselves at risk by having inadequate policies or no policy at all. Here are some questions designed to guide HR in the development of solid social media policies. “Yes” answers to the questions show the organization is on the right track.

  • Does the organization have a social media policy?
  • Does the policy define what it means by “social media”?
  • Does the policy define and provide examples of acceptable and unacceptable uses of social media in the workplace?
  • Does the policy reference the organization’s electronic monitoring policy?
  • Does the policy reserve the employer’s right to discipline employees for violating the social media policy, up to and including termination?
  • Does the policy contain an acknowledgment stating that an employee has received and understood the policy and requiring the employee to sign the acknowledgment?
  • Does the policy state that nothing in it is meant to in any way limit employees’ rights under any applicable federal, state, or local laws, including employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act, to engage in protected, concerted activities with other employees to improve terms and conditions of employment such as wages and benefits?
  • Is there a process to stay up to date on any legislation or court decisions related to social media in the employment setting?

If the organization uses social media to learn about applicants, consider the following questions. Again, “yes” answers signal a strong policy.

  • Have you made sure you are in compliance with any federal and/or state background check laws?
  • Have you considered notifying all applicants before conducting an online search?
  • Does the policy permit an online search for information about an applicant only after the candidate consents to such a search?
  • Does the policy identify the personnel who may conduct these searches and prohibit all others from surfing the web for information on applicants?
  • Does the policy state that the individual authorized to conduct online searches will not participate in the actual hiring decision?
  • Does the policy require the personnel who are authorized to conduct such searches to be well-versed in state and federal antidiscrimination laws so they are able to effectively filter the prohibited information?
  • Does the policy identify under what circumstances a candidate will be the subject of a search?
  • Does the policy specifically enumerate what conduct or information will survive the filtering process?
  • Does the policy provide specific procedures for how the search information will be captured, recorded, and reported to the relevant decision-makers?
  • Does the policy identify a course of action in the event that the applicant is not hired because of information found online?
  • Is the policy in compliance with any applicable federal and/or state laws that protect the social media passwords (and other similar personal information) of employees and applicants for employment?

A social media policy also needs to address use by employees. Again, “yes” answers show a solid policy.

  • If employees are permitted to be on social networking sites at work (including one hosted on the company intranet), does it explicitly state that they must not let it interfere with their productivity?
  • Does the policy make clear that employees who are engaged in social networking activities on behalf of the organization should endeavor to keep their personal activities as distinct as possible from corporate ones?
  • Does the policy state that employees must avoid posting information that could place the organization at competitive or legal compliance risk?
  • Does the policy require employees to reveal their employment status whenever they discuss the organization’s products or services using social media?
  • Does the policy prohibit the harassment of coworkers, customers, or vendors?
  • Does the policy state that no harassing or discriminatory messages should be posted on social media?
  • Does the policy make clear that accepted workplace behavior and etiquette standards should be observed, even in cyberspace communications?
  • Does the policy state that employees must not disclose confidential or proprietary information?
  • Does the policy make clear that employees are expected to comply with all applicable laws (e.g., Federal Trade commission guidelines, copyright law, trademark law, harassment law)?