When considering creating a social media policy, it is important to keep in mind that you will never be able to completely control social media use by your employees. There are, however, a few ways that you can successfully create a social media policy that will allow you to place legal boundaries around media use.
1. Create a Policy and BE Informative: Notify your Employees that you are creating a policy. Keeping them informed mitigates future “I didn’t know” excuses. Also, employees have the legal right to be informed about any new policy change or creation.
2. BE Informed: Before you start drafting anything, be informed about recent legislation regarding Social Media policies and cases that have created different interpretations of existing policies. Three major examples are:
a. National Labor and Relations Act (Sections 7 and 8)
b. New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (N.J.S.A. 10:5-12)
c. Protected Speech (In connection with NLRA)
3. BE Respectful: Adopting a “Big Brother” mentality simply because they are your employee is dangerous. Your employees give you forty plus hours of their week. Expecting them to constantly be in work mode and always be considerate of their work place is unreasonable. Social media provides your employees with a way to de-stress from the work week. They may even post about a specific instance at work that gave them cause for concern. Simply firing them for any damaging comments, or even reprimanding them to a certain degree, will cause you, as an Employer, to go up against the law.
4. BE Thorough and Concise: Many times, Social Media policies are declared unlawful because the language within the Policy is broad. It leaves room for your employees to assume. Anything that can be reasonably inferred by your employees to prohibit Section 7 and/or 8 activities of the NLRA could spell trouble in the future. Don’t leave room for assumptions.
5. BE Example Friendly: Be as example-friendly as is reasonable, because it lessens room for assumptions. At the same time, going overboard may come off as excessive and imposing.
6. BE Firm in Regards to Confidentiality: At the end of the day, your employee has an open space to post information outside of your control. Having language that restricts certain postings is legal. Employers have every right to require employees to protect confidential information and trade secrets. Remember, try to provide clear examples as to what are considered confidential information (i.e., development of products, internal reports, attorney-client privileges, financial disclosure, etc.) so your employees do not assume what is covered under such information.
7. BE an Authority: You need to be the authority on any policy. Your employees need to be able to come to the company with questions, and you need to be able to answer. Also, as the authority, you need to be clear what positions your company takes on issues so that there is no room for confusion.
8. BE Clear about Consequences: There should always be clear consequences if an employee fails to adhere to any policy. Be clear as to what steps will be taken if a policy is found to be broken. If you provide a clear step process that does not start with immediate termination, it gives your employees a chance to learn from their mistakes. It gives them a second chance.
9. BE Open-Minded: Realize that the world of social media is ever-advancing. It is shortsighted to assume that once you create a policy, it does not need to be updated. Especially if new cases arise that causes a re-interpretation of any existing legislation or regulations, be mindful of these changes.
10. BE Involved and Aware: Anything that gives your employee a chance to be involved in a process gives them ownership. It gives them the feeling they were a part of the creation of the policy. Ask for their concerns about what the policies will potentially raise, or whether they have any questions about the implications of the policies. Go through a checklist to ensure that you are aware of any possible red flags that would cause a reason for concern.