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Posted on Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Social Media Policies Under Scrutiny by the Government

Social media is everywhere.  Most people are interacting through social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  The ability to interact with friends, family and colleagues in real-time is unprecedented in modern day society.  However, given the transparent nature of social media outlets, privacy issues can be problematic, especially in the employment context.

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has taken an aggressive stance on analyzing employee social media policies and has issued multiple reports over the last year guiding employers in drafting them.  The NLRB’s main focus is whether the policies hinder or violate an employee’s right to engage in protected concerted activity, such as discussing the terms and conditions of employment. Given the uptick in social media, most policies receive scrutiny when an employee is terminated based on discussions or comments posted on a social media site.

Important take-aways regarding recent NLRB opinions:

  • Employers are allowed to prohibit employees from sharing confidential and/or proprietary information online.  It is Best Practice to give examples of what is considered confidential and/or proprietary information.
  • Employers are allowed to prohibit employees from posting vulgar or obscene language, as well as intimidating or harassing material.
  • A simple disclaimer such as “nothing herein prohibits protected conduct under Section 7 of the NLRB” will not, by itself, save an overly broad social media policy. However, it is Best Practice to include it, thus ensuring that the remaining social media policy is not overly broad.
  • Policies cautioning employees about posting inaccurate, misleading or internal company information have been determined to be overly broad.
  • Policies stating that employees are prohibited from disparaging or defaming the company through social media have consistently been struck down, thus employers should avoid such language.

There is a clear trend from the NLRB to strike down social media policies that are overly broad or determined to be restrictive.  As an ever-evolving area of the law, social media policies that may have been acceptable a few years ago may no longer be considered lawful. Employers should be mindful of this and understand that drafting employee handbooks and policies is not a one-time event, but rather a continuing and evolving process.

Nick Johnson, is an Associate Attorney for Washington, DC business law firm, Berenzweig Leonard, LLP. Email Nick Johnson

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