The idea of using social media in the workplace is a very 21st-century problem — one that many previous generations would have never had to deal with. In many aspects, social media defines parts of our lives. It is a way to document how we feel about certain things and a way to connect with people from across the globe on issues.
Yet here we are. Often being asked by our employers to maintain a social media presence for work, whether we want to or not.
For others, it isn’t even that our employers require a social media account. Rather the issues stem from the need to be abundantly cautious about how they act on social media. One post that is regarded in bad taste or one drunken picture from college that unexpectedly crops up could ruin a career.
Employee social media rights have become a central workplace issue. Knowing your rights when it comes to your employer and social media is essential.
Arguably the most important thing you can do to better understand your rights as an employee is to review company policy. Today, many companies that require employees to work online will have some social media rules as a condition of employment. Some examples of company policies that are commonly used include things like:
- Laying out guidelines for company responses to negative social media posts by customers on the company feeds
- Provide clear policy on who owns certain company accounts. For instance, does your work Twitter account belong to you since it is in your name or does it belong to the company since you set it up as an employee?
- Provide clear rules for transparency and honesty in marketing strategies
- Clarify if comments about the company in personal accounts are off-limits
- Set expectations for social media use in personal accounts of employees related to political and social issues.
If a company states that your personal account is protected, then it should be. Up until that point, it can be pretty murky. Many professionals would recommend not posting something blatantly controversial, especially if you aren’t sure of the company policy.
If your company doesn’t have them, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Instead, it means you should contact HR about getting something reasonable on the books before someone gets in trouble.
It is important to remember that although everyone has the First Amendment right to free speech, it gets a little more convoluted when it comes to social media. First Amendment rights are not always protected in private settings. For instance, you would never go to work and say racist things and expect not to get in trouble. Likewise, you wouldn’t have drinks with a coworker and slam your boss if you thought that information might get back to him and get you in trouble. Treat social media the same way as any other interaction that would occur in person.
Going off of that general guideline is likely to more or less keep you out of trouble. But there are the occasional posts that seem like they aren’t a big deal, but turn out to be very controversial. Here it can be important to remember where you are posting from. Using social media on a work account, from a work computer, or on a work-provided cell phone can spell trouble without question. Avoid using personal accounts in those situations at all costs.
Social media policies for individuals in workplaces are still relatively new. Many of the protections and rights are still being worked out by the courts. For that reason, it is always worthwhile to review company policy and get clarification on your rights. If you are unsure, it is always better to play it safe, even on your personal accounts.
This blog is printed with permission.
About the author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.