Could your social media policy spark a lawsuit?

Last week, I blogged about the importance of developing social media policies/guidelines that make sense to the people they’re supposed to cover or protect. Later in the week, the Federal Labor Relations Board issued an announcement that drives home the point — and that probably makes many bosses cringe.

Coming to the defense of an employee who badmouthed her supervisor on Facebook, the FLRB issued a statement that says, in essence, employee criticism of supervisors on Facebook is protected speech.

In the FLRB’s opinion, anyway. In this case, anyway.

There’s been no investigation yet. No hearing. But still, the announcement is making waves in legal, HR and PR circles.

It also ought to make us rethink the way our social media policies are presented.

Why? Because the FLRB is claiming that the company’s social media policy went too far. According to the New York Times report on the case, the FLRB is arguing that “workers’ criticisms of their bosses or companies on a social networking site are generally a protected activity and that employers would be violating the law by punishing workers for such statements.”

The case centers around the firing of an emergency medical technician for “violating a policy that bars employees from depicting the company ‘in any way’ on Facebook or other social media sites in which they post pictures of themselves,” according to the Times.

This news led Forbes’ Media Mix blogger Jim Nichols to ponder whether overly restrictive social media policies could lead to similar lawsuits. “This case could have a tremendous impact on how social media policies must be drafted, writes Nichols in a recent post. “A blanket ‘you can’t say anything’ policy is simply too broad and can arguably violate our free speech laws.”

Then the money quote:

While businesses need a social media policy, it should be designed to help guide employees about their conduct online; it shouldn’t be a laundry list of what employees cannot say or do.

Chris Syme also posted her take on this case and its ramifications on social media policies. “Social media policy devised correctly,” she writes, “will teach employees to help protect the company’s reputation online, but that has to start with in-house culture.”

* * *

One more reminder: Teresa Parrot and I will be delving into the particulars of social media policies and guidelines in our upcoming Academic Impressions webinar, Crafting and Effective Institutional Social Media Policy, on Dec. 7. We hope you’ll join us.

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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