If you’re a marketing manger–or director, or VP, or even a company owner–you’re probably responsible for your company’s social media sites.  As you have undoubtedly noticed, however, the lines have blurred between your corporate sites, your personal sites and your company’s employees personal sites. They will often “friend” your corporate sites and even ask to be your Facebook friend.

Social MediaBut what do you do when they post an inappropriate comment, or God forbid a photo of themselves or another employee out drinking the night before they call in sick to work? If you’re in the healthcare business, you could even be facing a HIPAA violation.  You could also find yourself in crisis PR mode and at the very least, an ethical dilemma.  What is the answer?

While you may have been tempted to log on to Twitter after such an event and post something like hey @employee #yourefired, it may not be the best course of action.

Social media is a quickly evolving and confusing area when it comes to employment law, which is reflected in the changing attitudes and rulings from the National Labor Relations Board. Currently on its website you will find this:

The National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work, with or without a union. This protection extends to certain work-related conversations conducted on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

In 2010, the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency that enforces the Act, began receiving charges in its regional offices related to employer social media policies and to specific instances of discipline for Facebook postings. Following investigations, the agency found reasonable cause to believe that some policies and disciplinary actions violated federal labor law, and the NLRB Office of General Counsel issued complaints against employers alleging unlawful conduct. In other cases, investigations found that the communications were not protected and so disciplinary actions did not violate the Act.

We asked Jennifer Compton, a Florida Board Certified Labor & Employment attorney with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP in Sarasota, Florida, how you can protect your company while also staying current:

“No matter what size business you run, having a clear, concise and always evolving social media policy at your business is a staple for almost every corporate entity that I work with. It can be extremely confusing to navigate in this area.  Most executives recognize the value and potential of online networking activities, such as professional and social networking, blogging and micro-blogging, participating in chats and Q&A sessions. When used correctly, online networking allows for relationship building, marketing, and continuing education. However, while online networking activities have value, they can also cause harm if not conducted properly.”

She went on to say, “Your company’s online networking policy should establish guidelines to maximize the benefit and avoid the harm from such activities.  Let employees know that failure to observe any of the policies referenced or articulated within the policy will be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including termination,” said Compton.

So what about the argument that an employee should be able to make comments like #ihatemyjob #myjobstinks #needanewjob #mybossishorrible (you get the point) when they are using non-company resources or during non-working hours?

“Again, the laws on this are changing as quickly as the technology is, which is why it is crucial to stay current to stay within them. We advise clients to be nimble in their policies to stay within the most current laws,” said Compton.

As a marketing and PR firm, we are always online in some form or fashion. It’s vital to promoting our clients, and tracking their press or online mentions. I am still amazed when we start working with a client who doesn’t allow employees to be on social media at work. You do realize that even if they can’t get on Facebook from their desktop, they are using it on their phones and tablets, right? Might as well embrace it and realize your employees are on social media. It’s not going away.  Make your employees your brand ambassadors; otherwise it could become the complete opposite.

Face it: social media is here to stay. Instead of banning it at the office, why not embrace it? When you’re ready to take the plunge–or if you already have–here are seven tips to present to your employees so you can avoid the temptation to tweet #yourefired, yet also allow them to maintain a presence online.  If you are one of the last social media holdouts because you also think everything is a top secret government conspiracy to watch us, you can stop reading now.

  1. Coach employees to be prudent and thoughtful about how they present themselves online.

This may seem like common sense, but just remember that whether you are an employee or an employer, everything that is posted on the Internet may be available on the Internet forever, even if you attempt to remove the information. Further, no matter how carefully you attempt to keep them separate, the lines between public and private, and personal and professional, are blurred in online networking. So, if you do not want the wrong person to see something, do not post it on the Internet. If you plan on calling in sick or late to work tomorrow, it’s probably not a great idea to post a photo on Instagram of drunken concert shenanigans or anything about you being on a boat.

This falls under the Duh category, but do not post inappropriate content, photos, statements, or objectionable language, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the workplace. Drop the occasional f-bomb on Facebook? Probably not a great idea.

  1. Do not disclose confidential information. Never discuss company matters or any other sensitive information on the Internet.  That goes, double, triple! if you are in healthcare.
  2. Do not identify customers or patients. Do not identify customers or disclose any information about them or about your work for them.
  3. Be respectful of the company. Do not depict the company, its personnel, customers, policies or practices falsely or disparage the company, its personnel, customers, policies or practices in any way. Respect the privacy and the opinions of others.
  4. Use disclaimers wherever you are communicating views that could be attributed to the company. Make it clear to readers of any information you post that the views you express are yours alone and that they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Company by placing the following notice, or something similar, in a reasonably prominent place: “The views expressed on this (form of communication) are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my company.”
  5. Be mindful of applicable laws. Among other things, always respect third-partycopyright and trademark rights, and always secure permission before including copyrighted material, trademarks, text, logos, photographic images, video, sound, or graphic illustrations.
  6. Avoid anonymous contributions. The same cautions and restrictions on communications apply to allegedly “anonymous” blogs, comments, posts or other content. There almost is nothing truly anonymous on the Internet.

We hope this guide helps you stay employed and reminds you to exercise caution when using any forms of social media.

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