Employee Social Media Policies – 12/2/12

More Employers Creating Social Media Policies for the Workplace

facebookAs social media use continues to overlap more fluidly between the personal sphere and the business world, more employers are writing dedicated social media polices, and many are also monitoring employee use of social media sites at work, according to a new survey.

The data comes from Proskauer Rose’s second annual “Social Media in the Workplace Around the World 2.0” report. In 2012, 68.9 percent of employers said they’ve created policies specifically for social media use, compared to 55.1 percent in 2011. Among the nearly 250 multinational businesses surveyed in the past two years, social media monitoring by employers increased from 27.4 percent to Twitter35.8 percent in the last year.

“Those were two trends we saw that were notable,” says Proskauer partner Katharine Parker, who co-heads the firm’s employment law counseling and training group in New York.

So whether you’re drafting a new social media policy or updating an existing one, employers will want to consider both their business reasons and legal responsibilities for spelling out the dos and don’ts of using Facebook, Twitter, and other social services at work.

Above all, employers should consider distinguishing rules about company sponsored social media activity from those about personal, non-work related use. “The first thing a policy should be clear about is the type of use the policy applies to,” Parker says.

Companies have wide latitude to regulate what employees do when they’re engaging in social media on the company’s behalf. Employers should make clear that employees need to obtain company permission before setting up a work-sponsored account, Parker says, just as employers should articulate that the company owns the content, connections, screen names, and passwords associated with the account.

At the same time, employees may have obligations to their employer, even when using personal social media accounts outside of the office. For example, an employee is still bound to maintain secrecy over a company’s proprietary information and trade secrets, Parker says. Likewise, she adds, “if there are code of conduct rules that apply to off-work time, these rules would apply to social media.”

Employers should also make clear to what extent employees are allowed to use personal social media on company equipment, Parker says. The survey found that 52.1 percent of respondents allow employees to access social media sites at work for non-business use, up from 48.3 percent last year.

It’s also a good idea to remind employees that their social media use on company systems isn’t necessarily private. “An employer is entitled to monitor use of its own computer network,” Parker says, adding that “the company system may automatically capture communications that the employee thinks are private.”

Employers generally monitor company systems to make sure employees aren’t disclosing proprietary information, engaging in illegal activity, or harassing others, Parker says. But the National Labor Relations Act does contain a rule regarding the surveillance of union organizing activity, so the law “is something to be aware of,” she cautions.

What if an employer is weighing disciplinary action in light of an employee’s social media posts? According to the Proskauer survey, 35 percent of respondents said their business has taken disciplinary action against an employee in relation to misuse of social media—up from 31.3 percent of respondents last year.

Parker recommends that employers consider the following questions before accessing an employee’s social media communications:

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