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Will the Story of Your Company’s Downfall Fit into 140 Characters?

Lucere Legal helps small business owners create a good social media policy

The actions and attitude of your employees reflect on your business, whether in the workplace or on the web. That’s why so many have adopted policies governing how employees express themselves on social media–afterall, research shows that three of every four American adult Internet users are also users of social media. All businesses have had to adapt to a world in which the words of one employee could risk a firestorm of public criticism.

Take note, however, that the law regarding social media is evolving, too. Will your social media media guidelines be fully compliant with the laws?

Below are four vital points you need to know as you craft your social media policy:

  • NLRA rules on free speech

    All employees are guaranteed the right to free speech by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is responsible for issuing decisions on a broad variety of employment issues, including social media privacy. Often, the NLRB will side with employees, including those who were disciplined by their company for negative comments on social directed against their employer. What employees post on their personal social media accounts is, for the most part, outside their employer’s jurisdiction and imposing punishment on them for it is risky. This is especially so if an employee is talking about working conditions at your business – squelching talk about your workplace can be violating your employees’ rights to self-organize, collectively bargain, and engage in concerted activities under Section 7 of the NLRA.

  • Protecting your customers

    Your employees may be able to gripe about working for you in social media, but contacting and complaining to your customers is considered crossing the line. You can put in place policies that protect your clients from unwanted social media contact from your workers.

  • Protecting other employees

    While most forms of speech are protected, harassment on social media is not. You expect your employees to maintain a friendly work environment in the office, and you can let them know you expect the same collegiality on the Internet.

  • How to handle social media snafus

    The output of the company’s own social media accounts is entirely under the discretion of the employer. What should you do if one of your employees makes a big mistake on your social media account? Make sure you have rules about use and a plan in place to deal with fallout.

You may remember how US Airways briefly generated an uproar when one of its employees accidentally tweeted a profoundly lewd photograph to a customer in reply to a customer service complaint. However, the airline acted with transparency and their investigation showed that the mistake was an honest one–despite the initial national outrage, the employee was kept on. Sound strange? Well, by coming clean about the situation the company turned anger into a more sympathetic understanding.

Not so for fashion giant Kenneth Cole: the company’s Twitter account seized on a trending hashtag to advance its own brand name, realizing only after resounding condemnation that using the deaths of democratic protesters in Egypt during the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 was hardly the place for self-promotion. The company issued an apology, but potentially alienated hundreds of thousands of potential customers.

To learn more about this, check out our Hiring & Firing page, and be sure to download our Guide to Social Media Policy.

If you are an employer needing information on the development of employee policies and procedures that conform with state and federal law, contact us by phone at 612-206-3701 or via our online contact form to schedule a small business consultation session.

Image Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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