Social media has been a topic of growing concern for employers. We have had managers calling us because their employees are using company time and equipment to update their Facebook accounts, to check email, and to tweet at their workstations repeatedly throughout the day. More and more, employees feel the need to constantly update their “friends” and to be in touch all day.

Social Media has exploded and will continue to be in the forefront of most of our lives. There are more than 500 million active users of Facebook and with more than 50 million active users logging in everyday. Other popular social networking sites include Linkedin, Youtube, Twitter and more are being developed every day.

I attended a recent seminar presented by the employment attorneys at Foster Pepper, a large Seattle law firm. Here is a summary of what I learned:
Most employers are now using social media for advertising, public relations, customer relations, market research, to investigate vendors and service providers, and to investigate candidates for employment. While all of these uses are important and valid, there are risks that employers should be aware of when it comes to employer-sponsored social media. Employers have to deal with a lack of control, employee misconduct, violation of confidentiality, exposure to securities laws and more. Employers must draft a clear policy, designate eligible staff to engage in the company sponsored media, discipline employees for unapproved or improper use and be sure to review and revise posts. Employees must be aware that when engaging in company sponsored social media, they have no privacy rights.
Off duty social media can be very problematic. When does an employee cross the line by talking about their employer on their own Facebook site? Are they disclosing confidential information? Complaining publicly about their boss or co-workers? Disparaging their employer? Is one of your employees cyber stalking a co-working or harassing someone? As an employer, you might want to consider updating your harassment policy to reflect social media issues beause an employer has a legal obligation to investigate if he should have known about harassment issues. The employer could be directly liable and vicariously liable.
People forget or don’t realize that social media is viral, what is said to one person can reach millions. When work issues are posted or tweeted, it goes way beyond office gossip or water cooler talk. Once it is posted, it is very hard to remove. If an employee’s friend posts pictures of her on a beach in Mexico when she was supposed to be on Family Medical Leave or short term disability, all kinds of employment issues may arise.
All employers should have a social media policy which addresses the  following issues:
* Address business use
* Warn that social media is not private
* Suggest care and discretion
* Require compliance with the law and rights of others
* Protect confidential information
* Prohibit false information
* Warn employees that misuse of social media may result in discipline
* Address business use
* Warn that employer controls access and content
* Address personal use and limit to off duty time and own equipment

* Restrict employees to using personal email accounts for personal business
* Prohibit negative conduct that might damage an employer’s reputation, business or mission

In addition to having the policy, it needs to be implemented properly. Train all staff, supervisors and HR staff, distribute to all employees with a signed acknowledgement, enforce the policy in a uniform manner and update the policy with advances in social media.

For a sample social media policy, courtesy of Foster, Pepper, PLLC., please email me at