Legal Aspects of Social Media Policies | DCR Workforce Blog

Legal Aspects of Social Media Policies

Most people today are kind of overwhelmed by the exceptional ease with which various social media have become a part of the lives of people – whether at work or during leisure time. We have discussed the various repercussions that could arise from the indiscriminate and unmonitored use of social media at the workplace and advocated the necessity of having a well-drafted and well-circulated policy on the use of social media at the workplace. In this post, we specially focus on discussing the various rulings of bodies like the National Labor Relations Board which specify the way social media policies need to be drafted by employers and also the manner in which an employer can enforce the specific terms of the policies. Employers will need to see that they avoid making the terms of their policies too broad and also add the relevant clause specifying the intention to stay within the bounds of state, federal and NLRB laws in formulating the terms of the social media policy.

Protected Concerted Activity: Just as an employer cannot prevent workers from taking up an opportunity to chat around the water cooler, online conversations and chats between employees are protected by the NLRB’s ruling. This protection is valid for both union and non-union employees. However, any attempt to attack or vilify a single or specific person is not protected.

Monitoring: Employers are provided with the right to monitor employee use of the online media to protect possible employee behavior/comments affecting the value of their brand. It is necessary for the employer to explain, in clear detail, the various expectations from the employee’s online behavior. The employer needs to specifically mention the intention to monitor the employee’s personal use of social media. If they dislike the possibility and hide themselves from view, the very act will offer protection to the employer’s brand also.

Any punitive action resulting from such monitoring must be handled with specific attention to the rights of the employee and possible charges of discriminatory treatment being meted out to the employee. A well-documented record of the disciplinary proceedings goes a long way to protect the employer from subsequent exposure to charges of discrimination.

The monitoring could extend to the various electronic gadgets and tools issued to or owned by employees, which allow the storage and transfer of data. The employer may expressly reserve the right to access such tools and search their contents.

Employee – Customer Interactions: Employees shall not endorse or recommend the company’s product without revealing their connection with the company. They may also not get carried away by the real-time communication capabilities to reveal much more than intended and end up sharing trade secrets, copyrighted materials and any other intellectual property. They may also start sharing information, which may show the company in a bad light. The employers need to set up regular marketing reviews to ensure that the use of social media by employees is meeting its productivity targets while it has not in any way violated the company’s rights and other intangible properties.

Avoid Infringements: Business impersonation is a serious threat to businesses these days and employers would be well advised to secure themselves from such infringement by reserving the user names and sites, which could allow other people to infringe upon their trademark. Any act of infringement must be followed up with the relevant social media to take down such content.

Affiliates: if entering into any agreement with a third part marketer, it may be necessary to includes clauses on compliance with the various laws and guidelines, against the violation of which the affiliate indemnifies the company.

Set Guidelines: It is necessary for an employer to be thoroughly familiar with the various terms and conditions governing the use of the various social media sites. Smart users set their own terms and conditions of use, retaining the right to screen the content, to protect their online presence – especially when allowing/inviting user-generated content. The company needs to formulate its media policy as a protective measure rather than a punitive instrument and ensure that every single person gets familiarized with the tenets of the policy and knows to use it in a productive manner.

Be Wise and Revise: Periodical reviews must be a part of the overall process steps in implementing a social media policy. It is especially necessary to stay abreast of the various developments in court cases involving the social media to understand the way they are interpreted. Any changes, if required, must be affected without any delay under advise to the employees as well as managers to ensure effective implementation.

All said and done, the use of social media is changing, developing and evolving in an exponential manner offering vast scope for repeated coverage and updates. So this is by no means my last post on the topic.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.