Repercussions for Social Media in the Workplace

Employees’ Time on Social Media

Whether we’re talking about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+ or even or good ole MySpace, the use of social media and social networking is here to stay. As more and more of us use social media services, employers and their employees are coming to terms with the legal impact of social media in the workplace. Businesses can find themselves struggling to respond to the actions that their employees take online.

Most of us recognize that employees who spend time at work on Facebook or other social media sites may be disciplined for doing so. Most employers have explicit policies prohibiting their employees from using work time and work computers for personal activities. On the other hand, it is natural for employees to assume that online activity conducted at home and outside of work hours will not affect their employment. But what happens when two employees begin feuding with each other on Twitter? Or when one employee uses Facebook to make inappropriate, harassing comments to another?

When to Use Discipline

When an employee’s use of social media begins to disrupt the workplace, the employer is generally allowed to discipline those involved, even when that activity takes place outside of the office. If an employee is using the internet to sexually harass a co-worker, the employer may be required to impose discipline. Likewise, employers may be justified in disciplining an employee whose actions online are particularly disreputable or egregious. For example, a business might consider disciplining an employee who uses his spare time to post racist diatribes on an online message board or displays pictures of himself using illegal drugs on Instagram.

When NOT to Use Discipline

On the other hand, federal law gives all employees the right to engage in concerted activities intended to address the terms and conditions of their employment. In other words, employees may act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions. When your employees engage in this activity using social media, it is illegal for you to retaliate against them. For example, employees complaining on Facebook about their pay or about the amount of work they are required to do are protected by law and should not be subject to discipline.

No Peeking

Finally, most social media sites include privacy settings that allow users to restrict access to the posts they make. An employer should respect these privacy settings. It may be tempting to try and sneak a peek at what your employees are saying about you, but doing so may subject your business to liability under federal and state law.


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