Are Employer Social Media Policies a Bad Idea?

120px-Buy_Facebook_likesAt least one employment expert suggests the best place for a social media policy just  might be in the garbage basket. California employment attorney and blogger Heather Bussing, who has represented employers, employees and unions in her legal career, offered up that contrarian take on my new XpertHR podcast.

Bussing explained, “Policies do not prevent problems, and with social media everything moves so fast that once it is out there, it is done.” What’s more, she said, in light of the National Labor Relations Board’s vigilance on this issue, it is almost impossible to draft a social media policy that will withstand legal scrutiny.

It’s no secret the NLRB has taken a tough stance with social media policies it perceives as trying to limit the ability of employees to engage in protected, concerted activity in discussing their working conditions. And, Bussing points out, even policies that do not run afoul of the NLRB can encounter problems under certain state laws. For instance, she notes that California employers cannot discipline an employee for off-duty conduct unless that conduct directly and detrimentally affects the employer.

Social media has become the modern day office water cooler so employers that overreact to online criticism might be doing so at their peril. While acknowledging that an employer’s desire to control how its image is presented is reasonable, Bussing says, “A policy doesn’t do that, and that’s fundamentally the problem.”

So what’s a well-meaning employer to do?

“Keep track of what people are saying and take it seriously,” Bussing advises. “Sometimes the manager really is the jerk and is causing problems, and this [social media] is an important resource.” The best way to deal with negative comments or online reviews is to work on your workplace, according to Bussing.

That is not to say employers do not have legitimate social media concerns. “Figure out what’s important to you and what you are afraid of besides people saying bad things,” says Bussing. “You do not want your trade secrets or company strategy getting out.” Neither does an employer want people revealing private information about each other online. But in addressing those concerns, Bussing says it is good training—not a social media policy—that is the key.

The understanding of the technology is still far from universal. For instance, Bussing points out that even on Facebook where there are privacy settings, the information is not really private. During our conversation, she also addressed some emerging issues to watch relating to social media.

Bussing is a legal editor for HR Examiner. To hear more of her views about why social media policies are ineffective, listen to our latest podcast.

Does Bussing have a valid point? Or do social media policies still serve a purpose for your workplace? Please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



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