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October 05, 2011

Social Media Policy in the Workplace Gets a Makeover

By Michelle Amodio, TMCnet Contributor

Your online persona and how it relates to your job is not a new concern. Take for example online media guru Heather Armstrong of who, after blogging about her job, was fired (in fact, the term “Dooced” was coined, referring to getting fired for blogging about your job.) Instead of blogging, there’s Facebook, MySpace (News - Alert) (if people actually even use this site anymore) and Twitter to worry about.

While your online profile belongs to you, how you use it can affect your job, but the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued some decisions on this very topic and they’re telling companies how they can enforce and govern the social media use of their employees.

Recently, the NLRB ruled that Hispanics United of Buffalo, a New York social services nonprofit organization, must reinstate five employees with back pay after they were fired for bickering on Facebook (News - Alert) about a co-worker's job performance.

There has been widespread confusion over what workers can or cannot post, leading to a surge of more than 100 complaints at the NLRB in the past year.

The board’s position is that policies that prohibit discussions on social media sites related to terms and conditions of employment, from wages, dangerous working conditions, is a violation, because such discussions are arguably protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

This, in turn, has led to the creation of social media policies by employers clearly define their stance on the matter without infringing on whatever rights employees have to express themselves on their own time in their own space, so to speak.

In a memo about social media policy, Lafe E. Solomon, the NLRB's acting general counsel, made it plain that company rules about social activity must be crafted and put into effect with care.

“The employer's employee handbook contained a blogging and Internet posting policy,” Solomon wrote of Hispanics United. “It prohibited employees from making disparaging remarks when discussing the company or supervisors and from depicting the company in any media, including but not limited to the Internet, without company permission.”

“Everyone is trying to figure this out,” said Nancy Cleeland, director of public affairs for the National Labor Relations Board as reported by the Miami Herald. Social media sites have become the office water cooler, a place where people hang out, float ideas and air their job complaints. But as Cleeland noted, “the audience potentially is so much bigger.”

Mashable sums it up quite nicely in its report, saying that it comes down to making a policy narrow and not too broad, don’t monitor and make sure it’s a policy that’s not controlling.

The NLRB isn’t doing this to spook anyone, rather help employers and employees get along when it comes to social media use and job security.

Although, it’s probably more simple than that. If there ever was a genuine concern about the workplace, it's probably best to take it up with management first before turning to Facebook to air your grievances.

Michelle Amodio is a TMCnet contributor. She has helped promote companies and groups in all industries, from technology to banking to professional roller derby. She holds a bachelor's degree in Writing from Endicott College and currently works in marketing, journalism, and public relations as a freelancer.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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