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Posted: August 04, 2011

Social media at work

A necessity -- or a slippery slope?

Troy Rackham, John Balitis and Carrie Pixler-Ryerson

If you run a business and provide Internet enabled computers to your employees, it is crucial that they understand how or if they can engage in social media while on the job.

Given how fast our world is moving, some would say that to prohibit employees from tapping social media at work could hinder the business-particularly if employees are engaged in social media for work purposes. Others would argue that it is a slippery slope and that if employees can use social media for work, they will naturally engage in it for themselves.

The delineation between work lives and private lives becomes fuzzier as the culture of social media and online content develop. This is particularly true for legal or medical professions, where the professionals use social media as a marketing function. The question of whether a post is a professional post, as opposed to a personal post, can be an intractable or impossible one to answer.

Given the ambiguities that may exist with an employee's use of social media at work, employers should clearly address, by policy, an employee's use of social media in marketing, publicity and networking. The employer also should address employees' use of social media for non-work activities that can impact the employee's work. Having a clearly defined policy is important if employment-related discussions are based on an employee's use of social media.

To write a social media policy that is appropriate for your workplace, it is important to consider several questions. First, does the employer expect employees to use their personal social accounts for marketing the business? If so, the employer needs to be cognizant of the fact that the employee's personal account might contain non-work related information that is not representative of the employer.

Second, is the employer going to create work-related social media accounts that employees would be required to use? If the employee uses employer-provided social media, such as blogs, then the social media policy needs to specifically address prohibited types of content (e.g., sending or posting offensive, obscene, or defamatory material or disclosing confidential or proprietary information.).

If the employer decides to allow employees to engage in personal social media on the job, the employer also should consider whether to include a general prohibition against using social media in a way that is inconsistent with the employer's interest or otherwise violates existing policies. Additionally, when the employee's affiliation with the business is apparent, the employer might suggest that the employee include a disclaimer that the views expressed on the social media outlet are personal in nature and in no way represent the views of the employer.

Further, if the employer is an employer of professionals with an independent code of ethics, such as lawyers, the employer should include restrictions within its policy to ensure that the employer takes reasonable measures to ensure compliance with the ethical requirements. It is not enough merely to allow a professional employee to use social media at work without reasonable safeguards in place to ensure compliance with ethical or professional restrictions.

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Troy Rackham holds the highest rating awarded by Martindale-Hubbell® Law Directory as an AV® PreeminentTM Lawyer. Selected as a "Rising Star" by Colorado Super Lawyers in 2009, 2010 and 2011. His practice includes employment and civil rights law, legal and medical malpractice and other forms of complex litigation. Reach Mr. Rackham at trackham@fclaw.com .

John Balitis practices in the labor and employment area with Fennemore Craig representing employers in arbitration, litigation and administrative proceedings.  He can be reached at jbalitis@fclaw.com mail to: jbalitis@fclaw.com .

Carrie Pixler-Ryerson practices in the area of appeals as well as in labor and employment at Fennemore Craig.  She can be reached at cryerson@fclaw.com  mail to: cryerson@fclaw.com.

 

 

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Readers Respond

I agree that businesses need policies, but I've also seen companies go overboard. Those that totally ban social media at work will find that their employees simply take their Smartphone into the restroom to check Facebook! We're all also basically eighth graders - ban us from doing it and we'll find any possible way around it. Give us a bit of freedom and we'll actually behave like adults (usually!). The hard part about policies is the HUGE variety of social networks. Dating sites are different from LinkedIn which is different from Facebook, but all are social media. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of social media websites. So, using the generic term of "social media" simply won't work, especially when discussing banning their use. It's a tricky situation that may only get worse as more sites appear. It is one that employers should deal with, but be flexible and change as often as needed. By Deb Krier on 2011 08 05

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