Policies needed for social media in workplace

Adults spend 42.1 minutes each day on Facebook.

By Christi Milligan

Human resources professionals have simple advice for companies that still haven’t put a social media policy to paper: Get it done.

Making it official may not save you the headache of an aggravated employee who vents on Facebook, but it does detail your expectations.

According to a recent report by Cowen and Company, adults spend an average of 42.1 minutes each day on Facebook while18-29 year olds spend 51 minutes a day on the site.  Twitter boasts more than 500 million Tweets every day.

Those numbers leave little doubt that employees have at least one or multiple social platform accounts, and they’re probably accessing them at work. At best, their time and content can benefit the company when everyone’s playing nice.  But when things go awry?

“The biggest risk is that when a social media crisis occurs  — an employee posts something the employer thinks is bad, management doesn’t have a resource to turn to,” explained Molly DiBianca, an attorney with Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor.  “It leaves it to their discretion to handle.”

Tricia Clendening

DiBianca was a speaker at the annual Delaware Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) earlier this fall.

“It is a hot topic for everyone,” said SHRM President Tricia Clendening, a Human Resources Consultant. “If you were to walk into 12 companies I guarantee only six of them have a policy on social media.”

It’s one of the items she recommends during her Human Resources audits, although not everyone’s on board. “I have a small client who has about 100 employees and he doesn’t want one – he said he doesn’t need to put policies in place for things that might happen.

“I personally feel you should have a social media policy so that you can establish expectations and parameters,” Clendening said.

Hot-button issues like negative comments about customers and clients can lead an employer who doesn’t have social media policy to refer to and over-react. That’s why DiBianca said a policy that outlines acceptable behaviors for employees who use social media at work or who talk about work is crucial.  Education about that policy is also vital.

“If they implement a policy that nobody knows about and hope to play ‘gotcha’ – that’ not good,” she said.  “Prevention is key.”

Molly DiBianca

DiBianca suggested a complete policy that is well-communicated and covers issues that range from social media use on company time, social media use on private time and company computers and phones.

“Those are the minimum and they can be put in the IT or social media section of an employee handbook.”

A larger issue, and one profiled in multiple cases before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), is confidentiality and antidiscrimination.  Basically, DiBianca said all of the rules that apply off line world apply to the world of social media.

“An employer should stay away from making rules so broad that they prohibit every little comment or expression,” DiBianca explained. “The reality is that employees are going to say bad things and you need to shoot for something that’s realistic.”

Those unrealistic expectations won’t be supported by the NLRB, which has drawn criticism from employers for too often siding with employees who violated social media policies.

The National Labor Relations Act protects the rights of employees to act collectively to address conditions at work, with or without a union. This protection extends to certain work-related conversations conducted on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

“Not being paid fairly or properly is the most quintessential example,” explained DiBianca. “With the idea of collectively, you would think that means more than one person.”

Not so, according to DiBianca. The NRLB interprets is as collective if the intent is to get more involved.

Lorraine Serva

“The way that the board explains it is that if it’s a personal gripe, then it’s not protected, she said. ‘I hate my supervisor,’ that’s a personal gripe not protected. But if someone’s saying they’re not treated fairly – that’s protected.”

Leadership at Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant instituted a social media policy about five years ago.  With 11 locations and more than 200 employees – many of them Millenials – it was simply something that needed to be addressed, according to Human Resources Director Lorraine Serva.

Both the restaurant and retail industries rely heavily on social media as an integral part of their marketing strategies – encouraging employees and customers alike to tweet their Iron Hill experience. Management even developed a class on social media to train employees how to use it for the restaurant – and when not to.  Much of it is addressed in orientation and underscored by a mission statement about loyalty.

According to Serva, it’s not a “one and done” topic, but an ongoing point of discussion. Nonetheless, there have still been occasional issues. “Everyone once in a while, there’s something.”

It’s the ongoing conversation that DiBianca said makes the difference.

“Communicating to employees what conduct is expected does so much more than a policy nobody talks about,” said DiBianca.

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