HR Management & Compliance

Pros and Cons of Banning Social Media Use at Work

Does your organization allow employees to use social media while at work or while using company devices? As social media use becomes a daily habit for many of us, this is an issue that gets continual attention. Employers often have to weigh the pros and cons to banning activities at the workplace that are perceived to have a negative impact on productivity.

This particular topic is one that has strong opinions on both sides. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons to banning social media use at work.

Pros to Banning Social Media Use at Work

Here are some of the reasons employers have used as rationale to ban social media use in the workplace.

  • Reducing social media use can help stem (but not eliminate) the risk of employees using social media as a forum for discrimination or harassment.
  • Banning social media while at work theoretically could stem the lost productivity that comes with excessive time spent online by employees. Many of us know first-hand how quickly time seems to slip away when you get caught up in a social media interaction or in scrolling your news feed.
  • Social media is yet another potential place for confidential information to be leaked. By banning it, that reduces risk.
  • Social media can be a source of other risks, such as computer viruses that come via links on social media sites. Allowing access increases the risk of an employee infecting a work computer with a virus.

Cons to Banning Social Media Use at Work

Banning social media outright, however, can come with a lot of cons and unforeseen problems. Here are a few examples to consider.

  • Employees may still have social media access on their smartphones, so instituting a ban on social media use on work devices—even if that ban is backed up by blocking specific URLs—may prove futile since employees may have ways around it. Even with these steps in place, the sites may not be truly blocked on the work devices because of the plethora of apps that can be used to access social media accounts without ever opening the social media page itself.
  • It can be argued that work breaks—more and more often taken in the form of looking at personal sites or social media sites—may actually make employees more productive. If work breaks are crucial to productivity, it’s possible that social media use during breaks may also be a net benefit as long as it is not abused.
  • Employee morale may suffer if the workplace is seen as being too restrictive. A ban, especially if accompanied by the blocking of social media sites, tells employees that you do not trust them to monitor their own time and productivity.
  • Disallowing social media at work can take away important opportunities for employees to promote the organization and network in ways that can help the company. Social media also acts as a way for the employee to grow their network and stay connected in the industry—which could help the organization.
  • It can be a way to reach out to clients who are also on social media. As such, taking this away during the workday can have unanticipated negative effects.
  • An overly-strict social media policy may be a detractor for would-be job applicants.

Another Note: Don’t Let Social Media Restrictions Go Too Far

It’s also important to remember that even with a workday usage ban in place, that does not mean the employer has the right to control all employee social media activity. One of the biggest areas to be wary is when trying to ban “bad-mouthing” the organization. On the face of it, asking employees to refrain from saying things that could damage the company’s reputation seems like it should be a reasonable policy. But the problem is when such a ban goes too far. A blanket ban on commenting about the organization online could be interpreted as trying to suppress an employee’s right to concerted activities—a right that is expressly protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Employers need to be sure not to be so general as to dampen employee rights to discuss working conditions, which is protected. Even policies that are more specific and seemingly within company rights are subject to strict scrutiny; it’s best to get the assistance of legal counsel to be sure that any social media policy is not overly restrictive such that it violates employee rights.

*This article does not constitute legal advice. Always consult legal counsel with specific questions.