Licking Taco Shells and Bashing Work Among Social Media Foibles

Employment attorney urges HR to draft, implement policies that address many concerns

By Aliah D. Wright Mar 16, 2016
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Social media has grown up.

But apparently people's behavior on social platforms has not kept pace with that growth.

"In general, many of [the things people do on social media] are the typical employment issues—just seen through the lens of social media," said Douglas Towns, a partner with Sherman & Howard, a law firm in Atlanta. He was the speaker in a standing-room-only session at the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) 2016 Employment Law & Legislative Conference on March 14 in Washington, D.C. 

New challenges are cropping up regarding social media and the courts are still catching up with changes in technology.

Know What Employees Are Using

Towns told the HR professionals in attendance that it's imperative that they understand what social media platforms employees are using—Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, Flickr, YouTube, and even dating apps like Tinder or Happn—and how those sites work.

"So talk about the misuses of social media and the power of the Internet" with your employees. -  Douglas Towns. 

In addition to providing an analysis of IT and HR concerns related to workers' privacy and organizations' information security, he urged employers to craft social media policies to restrict and monitor employees, applicants and potential litigants both inside and outside the workplace.

Employers should "diminish" employees' expectations of privacy, whether they're using company computers or their own device at work.

Citing online statistics portal Statista, he said that in 2010 there were nearly 1 billion social media users. By 2018, there will 2.44 billion. Facebook currently leads the way with 1.5 billion users, followed by instant messaging service What's App with 900 million users, and the Chinese instant messaging app QQ (also known as Tencent) with 860 million users.

Towns told attendees to monitor employees' use and misuse of social sites to help prevent discrimination and harassment and to protect the company's brand, trade secrets and confidential information. Through monitoring, HR may uncover evidence of violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act as well.

Citing a 2012 study from SHRM, Towns said that 33 percent of employers surveyed have disciplined employees for improper usage of social media.

"But what I'm more concerned about is that 60 percent of those surveyed said they did not have a formal social media policy," he added.

Employees' Bad Behavior on Social Media

Here's why your company needs a social media policy:

"So talk about the misuses of social media and the power of the Internet" with your employees, Towns said, and be sure to explain how data within even anonymous photos can lead "right back to the person who posted it." 

Employers should keep reviewing and updating their social media policies as technology evolves, he added.  For example, Towns said, what does your policy say about recording video and audio in the workplace? A recent ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stated that in most circumstances, employers can't ban employees from using their smartphones to make recordings at work.

Employers should consider, too, potential sexual harassment, privacy and negligence claims implicated by the use of new products and platforms, such as Snapchat, Vine and Google Glass.

Should certain apps like Tinder be banned in the workplace, he asked, since they could lead to harassment between employees? Should the use of a hands-free device be permitted while driving on the job?

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