In between writing posts about Facebook and Google and their respective privacy issues, I've been wondering if all the fuss has caused employers to rethink their approach to social media in the workplace. To that end, a couple weeks ago I spoke with Philip Eschels, a member of the law firm Greenebaum, Doll & McDonald, whose practice focuses primarily on labor and employment law.
Eschels graciously allowed me to pick his brain regarding the common issues that arise when he is advising employers on social media and other Web 2.0 technology. The first thing he said:
Employers are trying to figure out what to do with all the different social media. And from what I've seen in a recent survey, a little over half of employers have completely banned workers from using social-networking sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., while on the job. About 20 percent look like they're using them, but only for business purposes.
Those that do allow use of social-networking sites must then decide not only when and for what purposes, but also what that use will look like. Are employees and employers interacting via social networks? How much of what is posted is monitored? What's acceptable and what's not? Eschels pointed out that employer policies on these things are different depending upon the industry and the different ways companies choose to do business, but he did give a couple of examples:
For one thing, it's just weird if your supervisor wants to friend you...Then, I also know of one place where the human resources person requires anyone who has a Facebook page or anything like that to friend her so she can monitor it.
And though the company may be monitoring for inappropriate behavior, Eschels said more often than not the employer is looking at what is being said about the company and its offerings. "Employers don't want employees out there disparaging the company," he told me.
As for taking disciplinary action, Eschels said:
I think if safety is an issue, you're going to be all right as an employer. If it's just offensive language, you've got the potential for some issues.