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Employers: Keep Clear of Social Media Landmines, Part 1

Whether employers like it or not, social networking and social media have found their way into most workplaces. Their appearance has meant many potential landmines for employers to navigate. Luckily, there are several relatively easy steps that every employer can take to decrease potential liability.

This checklist covers the steps an employer can take to prevent social media issues before they arise by using the employer’s policy:

1. Make sure that new hires are properly trained on the importance of social media.

  • Prepare a policy or addendum to the employee handbook on the importance of social media and its impact on the workplace and organization. Reinforce the importance of reporting concerns and clarifying questions with supervisors and management before posting something that may be inappropriate or that violates the law.
  • Prepare additional policies that address specific concerns such as personal emails and texts from company computers, use of company email or other technology to send personal messages, protection of trade secrets, and promotion of company products on social media websites.
  • Make sure that any policy is acknowledged by the new hire in writing and maintain copies in the personnel file.

2. Create clear social media policies that leave little room for ambiguity and ensure that every employee acknowledges those policies.

3. If an employer wishes to gain access to restricted social media websites, consider the following:

  • Try to obtain voluntary consent from an employee to access the website by asking the employee if he or she is willing to execute a consent form. It’s important that the employee understand that he or she is providing the employer with the password. Consider having the employee’s signature witnessed.
  • Ask if the reporting employee is willing to provide a screen shot of the social media site.
  • Make sure the employee understands that he or she will not be punished or retaliated against in any way if the employee is not willing to provide a password or voluntary consent, or revokes the consent at a later time.

4. If an employer wishes to safeguard its ability to review personal e-mails or text messages, consider the following:

  • Prepare a policy that notifies the employee that the employer may review any communication sent over the company network, regardless of whether it is over the company e-mail or text messaging system or it involves a personal account using a company device.
  • In the policy, notify the employee that his or her communications are subject to review even after the employee leaves, regardless of whether they concern business or personal communications.
  • Make sure that the policy covers personal accounts that are accessed during work hours from company systems.
  • Make sure that the policy expressly covers text messages and other forms of communication on personal handheld devices supplied by the employer.
  • Make sure that the employee clearly and expressly acknowledges receipt and his or her understanding of the policy.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this blog post, in which we will review what an employer should do to address employee conduct that violates the employer’s social media policy.

This checklist is taken from The Legal and Effective Business Use of Social Media in the Workplace by Theodora R. Lee, a senior shareholder/partner with Littler Mendelson, P.C., San Francisco. Check out the full article in the December 2012 issue of theCalifornia Business Law Practitioner, a must-have quarterly reporter with practical and timely information on business-related topics.

For more on employer policies generally, turn to CEB’s Advising California Employers and Employees. And for more on monitoring Internet use by employees, check out CEB’s Privacy Compliance and Litigation in California, chap 8, which provides employers with guidance on a full range of employment privacy issues.

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This material is reproduced from Julie Brook’s blog entry, Employers: Keep Clear of Social Media Landmines, Part 1, on the CEB Blog January 23, 2013. Copyright 2013 by the Regents of the University of California. Reproduced with permission of Continuing Education of the Bar - California. For information about CEB publications, telephone toll free 1-800-CEB-3444 or visit our Web site:

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