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10 Tips for Creating an Effective Social Media Policy

Social Media Training

A controversial tweet posted by a Kansas University professor last fall in response to the shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. resulted in the Kansas Board of Regents’ adoption of a revised social media policy. The new policy has caused its own share of controversy.  Critics claim the new policy imperils free speech and is too vague under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The Board’s policy allows public universities to suspend or fire an employee for making improper statements on social media. University officials are charged with balancing the interests of the institution with an employee's right to speak on matters of public concern. Administrators may take action if an employee's social media post could incite violence, disclose confidential information or otherwise damage the university.

Although the Board’s social media policy cites the importance of academic freedom, critics are particularly at odds with the provision that allows a faculty member to face discipline for "speech contrary to the interests of the university." While the U.S. Supreme Court has not found that the First Amendment prohibits employers from disciplining employees for such speech, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has invalidated similar social media policies for violating federal labor laws.

The NLRB construes social media policies according to the NLRA, which protects employees who seek to discuss their conditions of employment — wages, benefits, working hours, the physical environment, dress codes, assignments, responsibilities, etc. — whether such comments are made face to face or online. Social media comments that are either an attempt to start, or made in the course of, a conversation between employees concerning issues related to their employment are considered protected "concerted activity."

Given that certain language can attract strict scrutiny from the NLRB, employers should carefully craft workplace social media policies to protect an employer from potential risks without violating various labor laws. Although specific needs vary according to the industry, business and company, the following tips can help devise an effective corporate social media policy —

  1. Broadly outline the organization’s strategy so employees know how they may use social media to further the business goals of the organization.
  2. Include an explanation of social media for those employees who may not be familiar with it, and identify the specific platforms the organization considers social media.
  3. Explain why the social media policy exists, the benefits of social media and the potential pitfalls the policy aims to address.
  4. Detail the amount of discretion allowed for social media postings on behalf of the organization and when authorization from a manager is required.
  5. Emphasize how quickly postings can spread around the globe, with potentially disastrous consequences.
  6. Remind employees that by identifying themselves with an employer online, others may view their personal posts as representative of the organization's position. Conversely, employees who post on behalf of the organization should clearly indicate they are doing so.
  7. Remind employees of the risk their social media activities could pose to the organization and the internal disciplinary consequences of inappropriate social media use.
  8. Advise employees that they could face personal legal liability if their social media activity exposes the organization to liability.
  9. Remind employees to be careful to guard against leaking intellectual property and confidential information via social media.
  10. Provide guidelines for responding to third-party postings about the organization to prevent issues from being handled inappropriately.

Clear policies and training are important steps in educating employees on acceptable social media use. Thomson Reuters' online training courses on Responsible Social Media Use and Appropriate Internet Use offer employees an overview of the basic rules and guidelines for using the organization's electronic-communication systems and other social media platforms. Online compliance training is an easy and effective way to communicate standards for acceptable social media use in the workplace and avoid the dangers of misuse.

Categories: General Business Compliance
Tags: Appropriate E-mail and Internet Use, Responsible Social Media Use

ACC Alliance PartnerProskauer
Thomson Reuters