An employee that damages a company’s reputation or harasses other employees on a social media site such as Facebook can present an expensive problem. A seemingly harmless post can potentially damage relationships and cause workplace disruption and loss of productivity. An employer faces the difficult task of balancing the appropriate use of social media while respecting the rights of its employees to express their opinions among themselves.
The protections that exist for employees include:
- Any blogging or posting conducted during personal time is out of an employer’s control. However, the employer does have some control if the individual is using work equipment to do so.
Certain states protect employees from discrimination with respect to their political views, and an employer could face legal action if they discipline an employee for an action such as endorsing a political candidate.
An employee who raises concerns about workplace activities that are illegal or unsafe may be protected as a whistle-blower.
An employer cannot retaliate if an employee complains online about discrimination or other violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. If an employee is fired for such a complaint, the employer can be subject to disciplinary action.
The National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees to discuss work conditions and to join in a union or other group to address issues with an employer. An employee who is fired for posting complaints concerning low wages or ineffective management has a valid legal claim against the former employer.
Eric Savitz discusses in Forbes the use of social media in the office. The right platform can be a tool for team collaboration and open communication that breaks down silos within an organization. Social media can aggregate and collect data that can lead to superior business strategy. Employers can minimize the possibility of negative social media activity by developing appropriate guidelines and policies and communicating them clearly to staff. The type of content that could be problematic should be conveyed so that employees understand what is acceptable and what is not. Companies must enforce the use of corporate resources for business purposes only and stress that company business is confidential. Any views expressed online must clearly be those of the poster and not associated with the company.
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