News & Insights

Why Developing a Social Networking Policy for Employees is a Must
May 20, 2013
by Robert Conte


South Bend / Mishawaka, IN – The last few years have seen an explosion in the popularity of online social networking websites. These sites can be both a benefit and a detriment for employers because they can potentially create a series of legal pitfalls. In light of the issues that may arise from social networking, it is wise for an organization to consider having a policy addressing social networking as it relates to the employer’s workplace.

When developing such a policy, the employer must first determine the purpose of the policy and whether it will have strong prohibitions restricting social networking, or whether it will encourage employees to contribute to social networking sites and allow employee participation, but with limitations. How an employer intends to enforce a social networking policy is also very important. In this regard, an employer’s policy should:

  • Specify the forms of online communication and conduct covered by the policy
  • Outline how the company’s name and logo may be used, if at all
  • Describe what financial, sensitive or proprietary information should be excluded from such sites
  • Address whether employees may discuss specific clients, and whether the employee may post pictures of the workplace
  • Remind employees that postings on social networking sites are public
  • Encourage employees to engage in responsible and respectful conduct regarding current, former, and potential customers, partners, employees and competitors
  • Warn employees to avoid conflicts of interest and potential harm to the employer’s business interests
  • Contemplate all of the legal considerations noted above, and also consider the employer’s other employment policies and guidelines, such as the anti-discrimination policy or other code of conduct
  • Warn employees about possible disciplinary action for violation of the policy

An effective social networking policy should establish guidelines about whether or not employees can use social networking sites during working hours and if so, under what circumstances. In this regard an effective social networking policy should also:

  • Encourage employees to go to Human Resources with work-related issues and complaints before blogging about them
  • Specify potential discipline, up to and including termination, if an employee misuses social networking sites related to employment
  • Establish a reporting procedure for suspected violations of the policy; reiterate that the company’s policies, including harassment and discrimination policies, apply with equal force to employee communications on social networking sites
  • Remind employees that the company’s computers and e-mail system are company property intended for business use only, and that the company may monitor Internet and e-mail usage
  • Require employees to sign a written acknowledgement that they have read, understand and will abide by the policy
  • Be enforced consistently and indiscriminately among all employees

In developing a social networking policy, the employer’s goal should always be to protect a company’s reputation, trade secrets and confidential, proprietary and privileged information, but must also keep in mind the privacy right of employees.

When considering or writing such policies, a call to an experienced employment lawyer is recommended. May Oberfell Lorber attorney, Bob Conte, would be happy to speak with you. You can contact him here.

Source: DRI Employment Law Supplement, Social Working in the Workplace, Newman and Isenhath, March 2010; Labor and Employment Law Notes, State Bar of Michigan, Spring 2010.