Main image of article Tackle Social Media Legal Issues at Work

The way we engage professionally via social media is offering new opportunities in the world of work. However, it's also limiting the overarching control that companies have on employees’ ability to communicate. At the SHRM National Conference in Atlanta, John Sumser led a panel discussion about “Legal Issues Facing Social Media Today.” On the panel were:

Some of the advice and issues discussed:

  • The new "office" is no longer controlled by the walls of the organization. It’s defined by the collaborative space that the employees create online and offline. Employees use social tools to get work done, blow off steam, and just feel like they’re still part of the office even when they’re not physically present.
  • One reason companies want to control social communication is the fear of mergers and acquisitions becoming common knowledge, trade secrets getting out, or negative issues being aired publicly.
  • If you have a sub-par product, you'll have a hard time managing communication about it. Lalli-Reese referenced a story of a restaurant's employees who published a video of themselves spitting in a pizza. While that became a PR disaster via social media, if your employees are spitting in the pizza, you’ve got a bigger problem.
  • Most social policies are designed to prevent people from seeing everything that's going on, but social media actually makes things more visible more quickly.
  • Social media is an accelerant. Drama is sustained as more people get involved. Before jumping in with disciplinary action when an employee creates a social media issue, pause and wait. Let people stop worrying and they’ll go back to thinking about themselves.
  • Managers need more training than employees on how to manage social media.
  • Sumser and Bussing are against the existence of social media policies. Hogan and Lalli-Reese support companies having social policies. Bussing points out that employees communicate via phone every day, and no one has telephone policies. Hogan argues that explaining social conduct takes much longer.
  • You’ll be amazed what you can find about a company by just searching the phrase “I work for/at” and the company name. There are tons of personal blogs out there where people are talking about their companies.
  • One way you can be aware of what people are saying about your company is to simply set up Google Alerts on your company name. When you see something that might be a problem, you can be ready to address it appropriately.
  • The state in which the employee lives is the law that governs that employee's conduct, not the location of the corporate office.
  • California has a constitutional right to privacy which allows employees to talk about what they want to on their own time.
  • A company has a right to protect its confidential information 24/7, not just 9-5.