Employees and Social Media Use Outside of Work: Where is the Line Drawn?
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[fa icon="calendar"] Oct 19, 2018 11:12:34 AM / by Michelle Nystrom

Michelle Nystrom

Employees and Social Media Outside of Work: Drawing a Line in the Sand

Employees and Social Media Use Outside of Work- Where is the Line Drawn?Controlling social media use of company employees is nearly an impossible task as there will always be someone who goes against the grain. However, making sure that rules and regulations are clear; minor mishaps may be able to be prevented.

Social media can count as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even personal blog or vlog pages (what some do not consider social media). When working for a company, social media posts need to remain professional at all times. Although no one can entirely control what you post, if you want to remain employed, it may be a good idea to become familiar with your company’s social media policy.


What Are the Main Concerns?

It is important to understand why companies may feel that social media is nothing but a burden on them and their employees. When employees become friends and decide to become friends online as well, work lives and personal lives can become intertwined. Once employees become friends online, more and more ‘comfortable conversation’ will be relayed to one another. Comfortable conversation can be described as ‘shop talk’ on the web. Personal things may get discussed and work events may be revisited via commenting on the web. This can lead into a positive and ongoing innocent friendship, or it can begin to cause issues within the company itself.


Not all Behavior Crosses the Line

When employees are outside of work, they are usually not held accountable at work for their personal lives at home; usually. However, if an employee posts something on their personal social media site that is generally offensive to the company, the employer may be able to take legal action. Hate speech can escalate  from demeaning commentary shared online. It is possible for coworkers to be friends online and have no sort of commotion reach the surface, so that in itself is not harming the company. But if inappropriate content presents itself, employees can be held accountable. Any content that an employer feels can be used against them should be collected in its entirety and kept in a file.


What Type of Behavior Crosses the Line?

Any behavior that is malicious or causes harm to the company’s business may be grounds for employee termination. If the misconduct does not affect the company’s values, then the case can either be ignored or discussed with the employee to see if a better persona can be projected on their online profiles to avoid any setback within the workplace. It is important to relay to the employee what the social media policy of the company is prior to hiring to keep this issue very clear from the beginning.

Criticisms of the Employer

When posting on personal social media pages, if the post is of praise or of promoting  the company, it is important to note that you must disclose that you are an employee of that company. Not sharing that you are employed by that company can become unfair to competitors because employees themselves are posting good reviews, not actual customers.  On another note, if an employee chooses to discuss their personal company wages or other terms and conditions of employment online, they may do so as long as they are not degrading the company name. Posting any sort of damaging comments about the company itself or its brand can immediately result in employee termination. Staying up to date with social media policies will ensure that each employee knows what kind of posts are deemed appropriate in relation to the company itself on their social media accounts.

Bullying and Harassment

Friending a fellow employee on social media can seem harmless at first but can ultimately cost one or both of them their jobs if things take a wrong turn. When employees become friends on social media, they can begin to feel a little more comfortable conversing than they would when they are in the office. This can potentially cause bullying and harassment to occur. If two employees that are friends on social media have an off day at work, they can resort to discussing it over social media together. If this discussion rises to the level of bullying or harassment, they may begin to put not only the company name at risk, but their jobs entirely. Complaining about an employer or another employee online can end up being shared by multiple people who can ultimately bring it to the company’s attention. Any sort of bullying and harassment is prohibited within any company, and if inappropriate information is found and brought to their employer’s attention this can cause both employees to lose their jobs. Specific examples as to what can be deemed social media harassment should be included within the company policy to avoid any confusion for employees.

Leaking Confidential Documents

When using a company name within a personal post, one must be very careful about the information they are about to disclose. Leaking confidential company information is absolutely prohibited. Posting anything that was discussed in a board meeting, posting release dates of a company product, or any type of employee misconduct can result in termination. Noting this within the company policy is important in that employees need to know what can and cannot be disclosed to the public and what the repercussions of such an act may be. Leaking company information can cause one to assume that an employer is working for a competitor or that they are simply just talking about internal activities with the public because they so please. Either way, any company private information that is leaked to the public is cause for immediate termination and possible investigation as to why that information was leaked.


What Are the Legal Risks?

It is important for employers to note that any misconduct  gleaned from an employee’s personal social media account must be collected in a file and brought to the employee’s attention immediately. Employers must note that they may not request login information from their employees nor attempt to hack into their accounts. Any misconduct must be brought to the employer’s attention by a means of finding it publically  by the company name or an employee name that was found when searching for social media misconduct. A lawsuit can be brought against the company if they feel that their profiles had been searched for any sort of discriminatory purposes, so companies should be aware that they conduct these account checks in a proper and legal manner.


Drawing Your Line in the Sand

Prior to onboarding an employee, they should be familiarized with the company’s social media policy. A social media policy should consist of the do’s and don’ts of using social media within and outside of the workplace. The policy should be very specific about what is deemed as inappropriate so no one gets confused, and employees have actual examples of what is considered going against company policy. It is also a good idea to have in place what possible punishments are for violating the policy whether it be immediate termination, suspension or if it may need to be taken into trial depending on how violating the situation is. Making sure that everyone is up to date on the social media policy will allow the company to avoid  any legal entanglements and ensure that no employee is uninformed or harmed.


The Key Takeaway

It is important to understand that in order to terminate an employee for a breach of a social media policy the company itself has to have been impacted negatively. If the employee makes himself look bad in a way that goes against company values, then further actions can potentially be taken. However, if the company or an employee are not directly targeted within social media posts than these posts cannot be held against the employee. Being familiar with social media policies and regulations can allow both parties to maintain a fair and equal relationship. Understanding what should and should not be uploaded onto personal social media accounts can allow for a safer workplace and allow everyone to be treated fairly. Although it may seem impossible to track all employees’ social media accounts, putting these policies into place smooths the process.This will also give employees a guide of do’s and don’ts to comply with. In doing so, everyone will start off on the same page, eliminating any miscommunication within the company.


This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice.  Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.


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Topics: Managing Employees, Company Culture, Management