SilkRoad's Blog
Mar 4, 2013

Social Media Laws: What You Don’t Know

By Alexandra Levit

This post is written by Alexandra Levit.  SilkRoad is thrilled to have her as a guest blogger working with us this year!

Greetings from London!   For those of you who don’t know, I’ve temporarily relocated overseas and am writing to you from a second-floor flat in the Bloomsbury neighborhood, next to the British Museum.

Before I left the states, though, I had the opportunity to participate in a Human Resources Management of Chicago panel discussion on social media usage in the workplace with Brian Arbetter, a partner at Baker & McKenzie.  In just 10 minutes, Brian shared so many valuable pieces of information that are absolutely critical for HR professionals to understand.  Here’s what I didn’t know – and what you might not know either – about social media usage in your workplace.

Friending Employees is a Bad Idea

While not illegal persay, infiltrating your employees’ personal details to this degree can put you in a position to do other things that are illegal (for example, subtly discriminating against them because of their sexual orientation).  Since you wouldn’t go to your employee and demand to be invited to her birthday party, so shouldn’t you request access to her social media circle.  You should also never ask for employee social media account information such as user names and passwords.

Employees Can Sometimes Say Things You Don’t Like

According to the National Labor Relations Board, employees can complain about your workplace on social media, and you can’t fire them for it.  You are only permitted to fire someone for social media conduct if he engages in inappropriate or slanderous behavior that does not relate to employment conditions.  For example, a few years ago several Virgin Atlantic employees were justifiably fired for insulting passengers on Facebook.

Don’t Catfish – Ever

Professional catfishing, or having employees/vendors pose as customers in order to shine a positive light on the organization, is illegal.  If you are found out, you could be prosecuted for fraud.

Use Screening Judiciously

Be aware of the potential to get into legal hot water by using social media screening for talent acquisition.  For example, if you have advance access to social media content that is directly related to future problems experienced on the job, you could be guilty of negligent hiring.  A good practice is to separate the person doing the screening from the person doing the hiring.

Have a Crystal Clear Social Media Policy Convene a committee with important stakeholders to ensure that you are consistent and in alignment on your policies, and that you have separate documents for the U.S. and other countries in which you do business (privacy laws, for instance, vary widely).  Don’t try to prevent everything, as the policy will be breached instantaneously.  Include details on content ownership (if an employee leaves, who keeps the Twitter contact list he created?) and off-hour contributions (are they posting at midnight as part of their job, and if so, do you need to compensate them overtime?).  Put everything in writing.

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