Social Media

Does Your Social Media Policy Violate Federal Law?

Brad Smith
October 27, 2018

Only 53% of companies have a formal social media policy, and 42% say “No” to any social media use, according to a recent article on Mashable (with the help from Payscale).

It’s shocking that barely half of the companies have a social media policy to help guide employees on proper conduct. And it’s even more disturbing that almost half of the companies try to deny social media use all together.

In a world that’s rapidly evolving and presenting new opportunities and challenges, it’s clear that most companies are still a few steps behind.

But who’s right?

The one half of companies who have a social media policy and try to provide guidance or restrictions where necessary. Or the other half that just says “No”.

Well it turns out that they both might be wrong.

The Two Schools of Thought

Employers usually take two different views regarding social media use. They’re either all for it, or they want to restrict it as much as possible. And a lot of that has to do with the company’s mindset.

1. You’re going to use it anyway

The first view says no matter what the company does or says, employees are going to use it anyway. The technology is so pervasive, and everyone has access on their phones.

Besides, equipping employees to be brand advocates and having them spread the news can actually benefit the company.

Payscale says that 2 out of 5 Gen Y , and 50% of employees over the age of 55 use social media everyday at work anyway – regardless of what their policies say.

That’s one view. But not all companies feel this way…

2. Social media use is reserved for controlled brand promotion

The other school of thought comes from the old days of carefully crafted mass-media messages, and only allowing PR or Communications to officially speak on behalf of the company.

These companies want to limit social media use as much as possible, and are typically fearful of the consequences.

In a perfect world, this view might still hold up. But there’s a problem…

Some of these policies might violate Federal Law.

Illegal Elements of a Social Media Policy

Lafe Soloman, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), recently gave his views oh how social media use in the workplace should, and shouldn’t be managed.

The NLRB is a United States government agency in charge of “conducting elections for labor union representation and with investigating and remedying unfair labor practices”.

Specifically, it’s illegal or unlawful to prohibit:

  • Coworkers from “friending” each other
  • Employees speaking negatively about the comapny (although it’s not advisable)
  • Use of trademarks, etc. (in some cases it can be considered fair use and not infringing)
  • Employees speaking to the press – especially about labor disputes
  • Employees from using social media on company time

A quick glance at your own social media policy, or those from other companies around the web will quickly show you that most are in violation.

Furthermore, the NLRB also “dislikes” those vague, overly broad and general policies as well. Which means most probably wouldn’t hold up as valid if they were challenged.

So what’s the answer?

There’s no clear solution. But it looks like the NLRB wants to advise companies to be careful about restricting social media use, and instead provide more guidance on what’s appropriate.

What do you think?

Should companies try to restrict employees use of social media? Or should they provide more guidelines on proper standards?

Or is having a social media policy a waste of time anyway?