You may think you’re ahead of the game if you’ve already drafted a policy that regulates social media use by your employees. After all, you’re just protecting your investment and your business’s good name if you forbid employees from bad-mouthing their jobs on their Facebook pages or posting about their latest compensation plan on Instagram, right?
Not so fast.
According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employers’ attempts to control or limit what employees post on social media websites and their personal accounts often violate the employees’ rights to engage in “protected activity” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Make sure you understand the NLRB’s social media policy guidance (and consult an attorney) before drafting or enforcing your company’s policy. Read on to get started.
A short history lesson
Way back in 2010, the NLRB began receiving complaints from employees regarding their employers’ social media policies or enforcement actions based on those policies. The so-called “Facebook Firings” caused particular concern to the NLRB, which immediately stepped in to warn employers that in many cases, workers had the right to say negative things about their jobs in public forums without risk.
While some policies and enforcement actions were found to be valid, others were not. These decisions were based on the NLRA which protects employees who band together to try to make changes to their employment conditions, even if all they wish to do is complain as a group.
NLRB social media policy guidelines
As a result of these complaints, the NLRB issued a series of guidelines urging employers to use specificity and provide examples when instructing employees about appropriate social media use. It’s important to note that it’s not just a question of being able to discipline employees for their postings — employers’ written policies can get them in trouble even if they have not yet been applied.
For instance, an NLRB ruling said that Costco’s employee handbook contained a number of policies that were too broad and had the potential to stifle employees’ rights to free speech and restrict their rights under the NLRA. The board ruled that the policies could be seen as prohibiting protected activity like taking part in grievances, on-the job protests, picketing, and strikes.
NLRB social media policy tips
So, what do the NLRB guidelines and its decisions have to say about social media? Take a look at your employee handbook and talk to an employment lawyer to ensure that you follow these recommendations:
- Avoid general, blanket prohibitions on any employee actions with respect to social media. This includes banning employees from talking about their job, complaining about their boss or co-workers, or disparaging company policies, among others.
- Instead of generally banning employees from revealing confidential company information or trade secrets, be specific about what employees may not reveal. While it may be okay to protect trade secrets, formulas, customer lists and technological data, the NLRB has found that employees may have the right to discuss certain aspects of their confidential employment situation (such as salaries or bonuses) via social media.
- Give employees specific examples of inappropriate postings. Acceptable limits include prohibitions on bullying, discrimination, and retaliation. Talk to a lawyer before disciplining an employee for defaming or otherwise lying about the company via social media.
- Do not restrict employees’ ability to “friend” co-workers on their personal social media pages.
- Unless you have a legitimate and defensible business purpose as part of your social media guidelines, do not ask employees (or worse, applicants) for their social media account information or passwords.
- Be consistent in how and when you review the social media accounts for prospective employees.
While it is important to have a social media policy in place, you don’t want to have one that violates your employees’ rights. Take another look at your policy, and have it checked by an attorney to be sure you’re on solid ground.
Protecting your business starts with better recruiting
Building a strong employer brand and protecting your reputation are critical goals for any business. Adhering to the NLRB social media policy guidelines will help, but it’s also crucial to hire employees who share your values and goals for the company. Assemble your team with help from Monster Hiring Solutions where you’ll receive expert recruiting advice and the latest in hiring trends.