Social networking policies are a hot topic today. With the increased popularity of sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others, not to mention the belief held by some in Generation Y that they shouldn't have to work for companies that don't let them access social networking sites, companies are doing some serious thinking about if and how they should address social networking as a business tool.
Earlier this month I spoke with Mitzi Wyrick, an attorney with Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs, who told me -- among other things -- that many companies fashion social networking policies that look similar to e-mail or Internet use policies. They want to protect company property (trade secrets and the like); they want to prohibit discrimination or harassment; and they want to protect the company's reputation, so they prohibit posting anything that paints the company in a bad light.
Last week, Greenebaum, Doll and McDonald associate James Herr added his thoughts to the mix. He told me social networking policies are often dictated in part by the industry in which the company operates and how regulated that industry is. Herr said:
Let's consider a highly regulated industry that has to serve not only a large client base but also has to respond to government inquiry at the local, state and federal levels. In those situations, security policies may dictate how their employees can communicate even generally. So [security policies] would also dictate their use of outside media forums.
He went on to explain that the health care industry is a good example of such an industry. Employees at hospitals or clinics have access to very personal information with regard to patients, and that information must be safeguarded in order to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and to protect patients' privacy rights. Thus, he suggests a social networking policy that prevents employees from posting specifics about patients and their conditions is in order.
Otherwise, the health care organization could be at risk for liability on several different levels.