Social Media Policies in the Workplace

Social media is a fact of life: a vast majority of individuals are connected to at least one social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Even some more conservative professionals find it useful to use sites like LinkedIn as a way of staying in touch with professional colleagues and expanding their network. Social media policies in the workplace are required because as useful as social media sites may be, there is also no denying that social media use can be extremely disruptive to an employer’s business for a variety of reasons:

  • First, social media may distract employees’ attention away from their job duties and away from customers. This can lead to disgruntled customers who feel as if employees are ignoring their needs as well as essential job tasks taking longer than necessary to complete.
  • Next, social media use can cause arguments and contention between employees if one employee takes to social media to attack another. The employer in such a situation is required to spend time addressing these conflicts as opposed to servicing the business’s customers.
  • Finally, a business may find its reputation and image harmed by an employee who takes to social media to report on the business’s practices or the manner in which it treats its employees.

To combat this, many companies have enacted policies that are designed to limit the use of social media by employees on- and off-the-clock. When do these social media policies in the workplace go too far?

Chipotle’s Troublesome Policy

social media policies in the workplaceChipotle has had its fair share of bad luck in recent months, and a recent decision from the National Labor Relations Board regarding the company’s social media policy only added to the company’s problems. In the case, Chipotle management confronted an employee who had used Twitter to complain about various aspects of his employment and his employer. In particular, the employee complained about his low wages, how Chipotle charged its customers for guacamole whereas its competitors did not, and how management required him to work at times when it was difficult to travel due to heavy snow. Management gave the employee a copy of its social media policy and demanded that the employee delete his tweets. The policy prohibited employees from making “false, misleading, or discriminatory statements” about Chipotle and from disclosing confidential information. At a later hearing, an administrative law judge found this policy to be troublesome.

False Statements Must Be Combined with Bad Motive

The first problem with the social media policy, according to the administrative law judge, was that other rulings from the National Labor Relations Board held that an employee who spread false statements against his or her employer was protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) unless the statements were the result of the employee’s ill will or malicious motive against the employer. Thus, Chipotle was not in a position to demand the “false” tweets be taken down absent a showing that the employee posted the tweets with a desire to harm Chipotle’s business or some other malicious intent.

Confidential Information May Be Too Broad a Term

The other problem with the policy had to do with the fact that the policy did not define “confidential” information. Because this important word was not defined, the judge concluded that the policy might infringe on disclosures that would be protected under the NLRA.

Conclusion

The take-away from this decision is that social media policies must be construed in light of the NLRA and prior decisions from the National Labor Relations Board. Policies that are not so created are at risk of being invalidated when challenged. Not every undesirable use of social media outside of the workplace can be prevented or prohibited by employers. Whether you are an employer or an employee always take professional legal advice about social media policies in the workplace.