A lot of businesses and law firms don’t have social media policies. Actually a lot of businesses and law firms don’t have written policies of any kind. This is a very bad idea. If you don’t have written policies and the time comes when an employee does something you don’t like you are going to have a hard time dealing with it. And if you have two employees who do something similar and you treat them differently, you are going to be in real trouble if someone files a lawsuit. You might well be in an “at will” state, but the reality of employee lawsuits doesn’t always reflect that fact. If you are a university or a college you need to be clear on what students may and may not do, especially when it comes to privacy issues. Health care is an area of great concern given its unique privacy requirements.
A lot of issues can arise online. If you don’t have a clear policy for your employees how are they to be sure what it is you allow and don’t allow? Frequently people get themselves in trouble and then claim they didn’t know what they did was wrong.
Cases involving teachers posting information about students have been a big issue of late. Schools, which don’t have policies, are not sure how to deal with teachers posting complaints about students’ behavior, making fun of students, or information in general have been a big issue of late. (I have posted several cases on my own Facebook page.) Also, the case in which some nursing students posted a picture of a placenta online comes to mind. In that case the young women claim to have asked permission and to have received it. The women were expelled, a court ordered their reinstatement. There are simply too many cases of people being fired for what the post on Facebook to review them all. Take a look at the search for fired facebook.
You don’t want your employees to be able to claim they didn’t know what they could and could not post. Be sure your expectations are clear (and permissible.)
What Should Your Policy Address?
Leaving aside the issue of a general policy, which as I mentioned you should definitely be sure to have, there are a variety of issues to consider when creating your own social media policy. These items include (but are not limited to:)
- Be clear that you mean all aspects of online conduct. Don’t just talk about Facebook, be clear, it is everything, all social media and online conduct, blogs, emails, etc.
- Employees, unless it is part of their job description, may not post upon behalf of the business/firm.
- For law firms confidentiality is key. Employees must understand posting any information about clients is either a terminable offense or a very serious offense. This should include the names of clients or potential clients.
- Remember, as an attorney you are responsible for the conduct of your employees. It isn’t the employee who will get in trouble with the disciplinary office of your state for the posting. It will be you.
- Forget trying to stop all use of social media, either in the office or out. That will never work. Instead focus on whether the staff member is in effect stealing time by spending too much time online.
- You may not prevent people from using social media personally.
- Make certain job descriptions are up-to-date. You might have an employee whose job it is to spend time online. You don’t want one employee to be able to say, “but Jill spends all her time online” when that is Jill’s job. You need to be able to support that this is Jill’s job with a proper job description for both Jill and the complainer.
- Be clear who is responsible if a problem develops on social media. Someone needs to be available to deal with PR issues, delete improper posts on Facebook pages, etc.
- Have guidelines for those who are responsible for posting on social media. Make your expectations clear and make it clear who those people are.
- Blocking use of social media is blocking use of an effective research and PR tool. Instead identify who should represent you, who is allowed on social media during the day, what their role is.
In the end, you need to think about what you want to do with social media, what you want your firm or business presence to be, what the positive and negative uses of social media are for your business and firm. Then you need to think about what you want (or don’t want) your employees to be doing on social media as it relates to your business or firm. Then make certain your social media policy is very clear about what is ok and what is not ok.
When you implement your social media policy make sure everyone reads it and signs it. Make sure you have appropriate training. Training should include how to control privacy online. Many Facebook users never change their privacy settings on Facebook simply because they don’t know how. Provide your employees with the tools and they will use them.
Don’t simply have new employees read your policy and then forget about it. Make sure you continuously update your policy so that it reflects your concerns, the changing technology and other issues that arise over time. Provide training continuously, make sure employees sign off on changes so they cannot argue they didn’t see or understand them. Make sure your policy is written in plain English so everyone can understand it.
Employment policies are crucial. Not only do they help to provide protection in case there is a lawsuit, but they help employees to understand the expectation of the employer. Be certain your policy covers social media, but the social media policies should be integrated with all of the policies throughout your organization. Also be certain that your employees understand the various policies and receive the appropriate training each and every time important policies are altered. Every time a change is made, make certain employees sign the change.
For examples of policies see the various sites that offer assistance.