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August 31, 2012

HR Fact Friday: Drafting a Social Networking Policy (part 1 of 2)

Below is the first of a 2-part installment on this popular and trending topic. I can”t claim credit for writing this informative post however. It is written by HRN”s own Content Manager, Joyce Campbell. To receive more current and easy-to-read HR topical content directly from HRN at no cost, simply register to receive our monthly HR whitepaper and/or HR Legal Update e-newsletter by going to: www.hrnonline.com.

The last ten years has seen a revolution in how people communicate with each other. Social networking, which includes use of Internet forums, blogs, wikis, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and the list goes on and on, has changed the world. As with most social transformations, this one affects the workplace as well.

If you haven’t already created a social computing policy and guidelines for your workplace, you probably should. No policy is a risky policy. While workplace policy needs differ widely depending upon the nature and philosophy of the organization, nearly everybody needs a policy. The trick is trying to decide what will work for you, specifically.

The following are a few key points to consider in drafting your policy. Given how rapidly things are changing in this area, you’ll likely need to review and update your policy regularly. It will definitely be a work in progress.

Developing Social Networking Policies and Guidelines

1. One size definitely does not fit all – Don’t expect to adopt another organization’s policy. At the very least you’ll need to customize sample policies (including the HRN written policy included as a template in HR Suite) to fit your industry, how technology is used in your workplace, your employees, and overall organizational need.

2. There are varying degrees of tolerance among organizations – High tech organizations may be very liberal regarding employee social computing and see business opportunities in letting employees network at work. Some older brick and mortar companies may have little use for and only see problems arising from employee social networking. Where does your organization fit along this continuum?

3. What kind of social networking does your organization seek to regulate?
a) When?
i. Social networking during work
ii. Social networking after work
iii. Both

b) What?
i. What types of communications do you intend to address?
ii. Does it depend on whether the activities are at work or home?

4. What types of communication may be useful to your organization? 

5. What types of communication could present problems to you?

6. Which groups in your organization should be allowed to use company equipment and work time for social networking? – All employees? None? Some?

7. Should you consider blocking, filtering, or monitoring certain sites at work? If so, for what groups of employees?

8. What are the legal concerns and potential negative aspects for employers?
a) Companies may be liable for defamatory, harassing, or discriminatory communications by their employees.
b) Organizations should understand that employees have certain privacy rights and, in some states, laws protect employees who engage in lawful activities outside of work.
c) Although this area of law is evolving, there are protections for employees engaging in political activities so an employee blog regarding politics, working conditions, or employee rights is probably protected.
d) Federal labor law provides that employees have the right to discuss wages and terms and conditions of employment.
e) Employers must be careful not to violate the federal Stored Communications Act. It prohibits a 3rd party from accessing electronic communications (e.g., email or social network sites) without proper authorization. There’s nothing wrong if an employer reads an employee’s posts on a public site…there’s no expectation of privacy. However, if that employer gains access to a password protected site by illicit means or by coercing another employee to offer up the password, that’s another problem.
f) Many employers review applicants’ social sites to learn more about the candidates. However, an employer who learns about an applicant’s or employee’s disability, sexual identity, race, etc., and fails to hire the applicant or promote the employee could face discrimination allegations.
g) A Federal Trade Commission guideline (Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising) provides that employees who use social media to make statements about an employer’s products could create liability (even unintended) if a consumer later claims that he was misled or purchased a defective or dangerous product. Companies could be liable for any false or unsubstantiated claims by employees or even for an employee’s failure to disclose his relationship with the company.
h) Inappropriate communication can damage company reputation.
i) Problems may arise by intentional or accidental employee action.
j) It can waste an awful lot of time and decrease productivity. (Some characterize this as “social notworking” vs. “social networking”).

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