Craft Social Media Use Policies Before You Need Them

Lora Bentley
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Seven Critical Questions to Ask Before Developing a Social Media Policy

Increase project success rates by providing well-defined guidance for social media initiatives.

Late last year, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint in support of a Connecticut ambulance worker who was fired after she "aired grievances about her boss" on Facebook. The board argued the employee's comments amounted to protected speech under labor laws because she was discussing terms and conditions of her employment with her coworkers.


In other words, in certain circumstances, Facebook is the digital equivalent of the office water cooler.


The case settled before a determination on whether the employee's speech actually was protected could be made. But employers still sat up and took notice. Did it indicate a trend toward more employee freedom on social networks? In certain circumstances, perhaps.


But a case recently decided in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit indicates that employers can justifiably discipline employees for social networking activity-as long as the activity in question clearly violates an established company policy.


The case involved a probationary firefighter in Savannah, Ga., who, according to

posted photos of herself in uniform on her MySpace page. Problem was, she also posted revealing photos of herself, including at least one in which she appeared to be nude.

When superiors found them (thanks to an anonymous tipster) and asked her to take them down, she refused and became "combative," claiming she had been singled out because she was a woman. She claimed others in the department had posted pictures of themselves in uniform, but then refused to name them for her supervisors. They fired her for insubordination.


Ultimately, the court found she had not established a prima facie case of gender discrimination and dismissed the case.


Like I've said before, don't wait until something embarrassing happens before deciding the company needs a social media use policy. If the policy is clearly established beforehand, there will be fewer questions-and fewer lawsuits-regarding the appropriate action when violations occur.

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