It happens repeatedly. A person posts a photo or video of themselves engaging in egregious behaviors online: tampering with food, destroying property, ranting against the boss.
Companies have always had to deal with problem employees and problems at work—social media has just shone a spotlight on these behaviors.
What’s an employer to do?
Alan D. Wright says “Get a policy. But recognize that employees do have the right to discuss their working conditions online—it’s called protected concerted activity and this right is guaranteed to them through the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).”
According to Wright, while employers are encouraged not to discourage employees from talking about their working conditions, including their boss, their wages, their benefits, etc., they can institute policies that address all types of online communication.
She includes comments on Facebook, blogs, online discussion boards, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, posts under news stories, Google +, Tumblr, Flickr, YouTube, Vine, Viddy, MixBit, and any other place people congregate on the Internet.
This is necessary, Wright believes, because anything they say on these sites and apps could impact their jobs.
Wright adds that when devising the policy, consider the industry and the culture. Among the factors he believes should be considered are:
- Is the culture formal or informal?
- Does the industry, say healthcare for example, have rules against disclosing proprietary or confidential information?
- Define those terms as well. Decide, too, who will speak on the company’s behalf should an issue arise.
In 2012, the National Labor Relations Board cited Wal-Mart’s Social Media Guidelines as a good blueprint to follow when devising a social media policy.
Good policies should encourage employees to:
- Be polite
- Abide the law
- Be authentic
- Refer social media complaints to a team designed to handle them
- Be prepared to balance their work and their social media activities
- Consider telling management about any grievances or complaints about the job.
The policy should also remind employees that nothing they post to a social networking site is really private—settings notwithstanding. Anyone can share any post, any photo, any video, any comment simply by pushing a button, making a print out, or taking a screen shot—even from a smartphone.
Employees should be trained on the social media policy, but perhaps, more importantly, they should be encouraged to remember that nothing ever really dies online. Deleted material lives in a repository that the user cannot see but can be accessed by the website’s host any time. Remind them, too, that the things they say and do online may impact their careers in the future.
Aliah D. Wright is a digital communication’s expert and author of “A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn … And the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites.” Reach her via Twitter @1SHRMScribe or Facebook.com/aliahwrites.