Friday, May 21, 2010

Social Media Presents Issues for Employers and Employees

It's common sense to not to rant about a co-worker, boss, the company you work for, much less post your livid complaints on a social networking site or sites for the world and your said co-worker/boss/company to see. But of course, some miss the simple message or just don't care enough to cover their tracks. Hence the eventual firing or workplace drama.

Employment at-will, basically states that "in the absence of employment contracts (such as collective bargaining agreements) that indicate otherwise, employers generally may fire employees for any reasons, no reasons and even unfair reasons, as long as they are not illegal reasons." Most states are at-will states and can fire employees for almost any reason except "federally protected classes such as race, gender and religion. In other words, you can legally be fired or disciplined for posting anything deemed negative or inappropriate by your employer, even if it's a joke.

While one-fourth of companies disciplined an employee for inappropriate social media usage, only 10 percent have a policy addressing social network sites, according to a 2009 survey of nearly 800 private and public employers by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics and the Health Care Compliance Association. In addition, the results showed workplace monitoring of online activity is underdeveloped.

While most companies are struggling to deal with the explosion of social media outbursts and may take awhile to develop specific company policies, don't think that you're safe.

Think about the situation logically before you tweet your latest lament. It's your place of employment, where you get paid to do a job, which doesn't include changing your status to all the reasons why you're boss is an evil hack. Expressing yourself is likely not as important as keeping your job. For employers, contact a lawyer experienced in the legal issues related to social media. It may be wise for employers to set social media policies to avoid unfair or uneven employee discipline.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto and Erik Syverson.

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