HR Policies & Procedures

3 Steps to Protect Information While Leveraging Social Media

The number of companies maintaining a corporate presence on social media rose from 34% in 2008 to 77% in 2013 according to SHRM Survey Findings: Social Networking Website and Recruiting/Selection. According to the survey, social media is primarily used to attract passive job candidates, but, according to Brian R. Garrison, Esq.—partner with the law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP., and editor of Indiana Employment Law Letter—the rise of social media comes with both pros and cons for employers.

Human resources concept on tablet with hologram

Garrison, who presented a session at BLR’s 2017 Advanced Employment Issues Symposium (AEIS) titled #Protecting Information Systems, noted that social media is a powerful marketing and public relations tool for companies. It can help increase traffic to company websites and can provide companies with greater insight into the public’s perception of their products and services.

On the flip side, Garrison noted that unintended statements and images posted on social media may not represent the company’s position, and could create negative customer impressions. He also warned that social media use by employees may result unexpected liabilities such as the loss of intellectual property and trade secrets, claims of defamation, security breaches, privacy issues, and discrimination or harassment complaints.

In order to help employers reduce the risks associated with social media use, Garrison recommends taking these three steps.

  1. Adopt a social media policy or guidelines. Garrison advises that the guidelines or policies should not just be stuck in the employee handbook. It is important to train employees about the policy or guidelines and to talk to employees about issues as they come up, including issues around trade secrets, intellectual property, and privacy rights.
  2. Establish procedures for conducting internet searches of job candidates. Each company, says Garrison, should establish protocols and procedures for the use of social media when screening applicants. The procedures and protocols must be applied consistently, and only publicly available information should be searched. Garrison also cautioned that if using a consumer reporting agency (third party) to conduct internet searches, employers must make sure that appropriate disclosures in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and related state laws are made.
  3. Use caution when disciplining or terminating an employee because of social media posts. Garrison cautions employers to slow down and not jump to conclusions. Employers must check their facts first and make sure that they do not rely on information that was impermissibly obtained. He also reminded employers that labor-law considerations must be kept in mind when making decisions related to discipline or termination. Garrison further noted that it is important to insulate decision-makers from information related to a protected characteristic or that might have been impermissibly obtained.

As of its 23rd year, BLR’s Advanced Employment Issues Symposium is being renamed HR Comply.  By any name, it is the nation’s leading human capital management conference for HR professionals, executives, and in-house counsel. The superior content and expert presenters will help you get ahead of workplace policy updates with a one-stop, all-bases-covered overview of breaking updates and proven best practices. Learn more about HR Comply 2018, being held in Las Vegas next November.

Cathy Gray Catherine Moreton Gray, JD, is Senior Managing Editor for Human Resources and Compensation. Ms. Gray has over 20 years combined experience in HR management and as a management-side labor and employment attorney. Her HR experience includes recruiting, employee relations and communications, affirmative action and compensation. As an attorney, Ms. Gray regularly counseled employers on issues such as complying with federal and state wage and hour laws, accommodating employees with disabilities, complying with federal and state laws requiring paid sick leave and family and medical leave, and union avoidance and labor relations.

She represented employers in government audits, before administrative agencies, and in federal and state courts on matters including discrimination, wrongful discharge, sexual harassment, affirmative action compliance, unfair labor practices and wage and hour violations.

Ms. Gray has also written articles on developing employment law issues, and developed and presented training for clients. Ms. Gray received her law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law, and is admitted to practice law in the State of Connecticut and before the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut.

Questions? Comments? Contact Cathy at cgray@blr.com for more information on this topic