Should My Company Have a Social Media Policy?

Make sure you understand the legal issues related to imposing restrictions on your employees' use of social media.

The rising use of social media by companies and individuals alike has created new workplace issues for employers. Restricting your employees’ use of social media is a complicated issue. On one side are certain employee rights that are specifically protected under labor laws, such as the right to free speech and the right to engage in concerted activity. On the other side are employer concerns about reputational and financial harm to their business that could result from inappropriate or damaging online posts or other social media use by employees.

Many companies have chosen to adopt a social media policy that lays out rules regarding their employees’ use of social media accounts. While any policy must be tailored to the specific needs of the company in question, the following provides some guidelines for any business looking to establish its own rules and procedures regarding appropriate use of social media by its employees.

Employees Rights Under Labor Laws

The National Relations Labor Act specifically safeguards employees’ freedom of speech, and also gives employees the right to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection. All employees are protected under these laws, regardless of whether their workforce is unionized or not. This means that all employees have the right to criticize their company and talk to each other about wages, hours, and working conditions on Facebook, Twitter, and other public social media platforms. Any restrictions a company imposes on social media use must not have a chilling effect on this right to engage in protected speech and concerted activities. For example, the National Relations Labor Board has stated that a total ban on social media use at the workplace is too restrictive and that, at a minimum, employees must be allowed to engage in online conversations with co-workers during non-work hours (like lunch or a break) in non-work areas (like the cafeteria).

Creating a Social Media Policy

If you decide you want to adopt a social media policy for your company, you should think about what makes sense for your employees and your company culture. You will want to have a policy that is tailored to your specific needs and addresses the issues most likely to arise at your company. This is a changing area of law so you may want to consult with an experienced employment law attorney to help you draft your policy.

General Guidelines for a Policy

Here are some general guidelines to consider when you create a policy.

  • Create a simple and easy-to-follow policy that can be modified quickly in response to changes in the laws regarding social media.
  • Avoid overly burdensome, impractical, and unnecessary restrictions, as these may violate applicable law (including federal and state labor laws), and can serve to undermine employee moral (encouraging non-compliance). All rules should serve a definite purpose without being over-reaching or overly broad.
  • Define what information is confidential and should not be disclosed. Often this includes non-public sensitive information related to the company’s finances, business strategies, personnel, competition, legal matters, operations, or other internal affairs.
  • Provide specific examples of prohibited conduct, particularly where certain behavior has proven to be commonplace amongst employees at your company.
  • Familiarize yourself with all laws, rules, and regulations respecting social media usage, including those addressing freedom of speech, infringement of intellectual property, labor relations, advertising and promotions (including FTC endorsement guidelines), and employer/employee federal and state regulations.
  • Regularly communicate to all employees the importance of adhering to the policy.

Maintain an open line of communication with all employees and encourage questions from anyone who is unsure about whether or not their postings are in compliance with the policy. Provide the names and contact information of designated personnel to handle these types of inquiries.

Make Sure Employees Identify Themselves Online

When discussing the company, and its products or services, in any form of social media, employees should identify themselves by name and title if they are speaking on behalf of the company. If they are not an official spokesperson for the company, they should make it clear that they are speaking for themselves and not on behalf of the company. Employees should be reminded that they are personally responsible for the content that they post while acting on their own behalf and not as an authorized representative of the company. Employees should not use a company email address for private, non-business communications.

Privacy Statement

Employees should be informed that any use (personal or professional) of an employer’s electronic information and communication systems is never private, and, the employer can review any employee use of their systems to ensure compliance with all applicable policies, laws, and regulations.

Compliance Monitoring and Response to Violations

The policy should set forth in sufficient detail how the company will monitor employee use of social media platforms (including company-managed and personal accounts); and respond to a violation of its social media policy.

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