Writing a Social Media Policy for Employees

AdobeStock_107108541-300x199Twenty years ago, the term “social media” meant an AOL instant message chat that likely wasn’t addressed in your employee handbook. But today, social media policies are workplace handbook essentials. Your employees may promote your company in one tweet while supporting viewpoints contrary to your corporate policies in the next. Use of social media platforms on work-based systems and networks is also a point of contention for many employers. In some rare instances, employees throughout the nation have even used social media on employer-supplied computers to conduct illegal activities.  Issues arise in Court because social media posts are not treated any differently than any other documentary evidence in a case, and all documents—unlike person-to-person conversations, live forever and can be spun and taken out of context.

Given the fast-evolving social media landscape, social media policies are no longer really optional if employers want to have a well-run businesses. You have the right to regulate your employees’ use of work-based systems.  An experienced California employment lawyer at Structure Law Group, LLP can help you draft employment agreements to protect you from potential social media disasters.

Defining Social Media in Your Employee Handbook

Social media platforms change on an almost daily basis. From professional networking to artistic expression, there’s no overarching legal definition of “social media.” As such, begin drafting your social media policy by defining the term to be as broad as possible for your protection. Webster’s dictionary defines “social media” as “forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos).” This is a good starting point, but we recommend defining social media to also include the following mediums, which again, increase and evolve by the day in this fast-paced tech world we all inhabit:

  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Reddit
  • Youtube
  • Weibo
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Tumbler
  • Flicker,
  • Personal websites & blogs
  • Dating and relationship websites and applications.

We also recommend that, as the internet changes, you as the employer reserve the right to modify this definition to include new national and international social media developments. You should also retain the right, as the employer, to discretionarily determine what constitutes a social media violation.

Important Considerations for your Social Media Policy

Your employee handbook should address a variety of possible social media concerns. Employers commonly recommend that, despite an employee’s zeal, he or she not utilize a personal social media account to defend the corporation or discuss its policies. Even if an employee is well-meaning, this can create headaches and legal issues down the line.

Trade secret protection is also important. You should set forth a clear definition of what constitutes corporate trade secrets and confidential information and prohibit the same from being shared over social media. You should also require employees to adhere to your social media policy both on and off the clock and provide them with a corporate social media contact.

Importantly, your social media policy should reflect company values. You should prohibit employees from utilizing a social media account referencing their employment for illegal purposes and have a strong non-discrimination policy associated therewith. For example, you can state that your company has the right to monitor an employee’s public social media account and will not tolerate discrimination based on race, sex, religion, ethnicity, or disability. Having a strong policy for dealing with social media violations is also essential.  However, it is important than any policy restricting employees in this regard is carefully drafted so as not to run afoul of first amendment freedoms.

Contact a San Jose Employment Lawyer Today

Adding a strong social media policy to your employee handbook is one of the best decisions you can make. A clear policy can help avoid the pitfalls of social media and protect you against claims that your company endorses viewpoints contrary to your corporate mission. To schedule your employment law consultation, call our California social media attorneys today at 408-441-7500 or contact us online.