Social media and your rights

April 5, 2013 By Naif L. Bartlett, University of Missouri Conferences

If you wouldn’t say it to your grandma, don’t post it on social media.

Robin Wood, an HR consulting manager for CBiz Human Capital Services, equated social media to a dirty joke — you must exercise caution when posting something publicly — during a breakout session Friday at ACES 17th national conference in St. Louis.

In her session about an employee’s rights and responsibilities when it comes to social media, Wood made some key points about what the employee is and isn’t allowed to do. To avoid problems at work resulting from social media posts, Wood advised against becoming Facebook friends with employees. In fact, she recommended developing a policy against it, and since employers are not allowed to ask for passwords to personal Facebook accounts, the policy would protect your account completely.

If an employee wants to post on social media about the conditions of their job, employers are not allowed to prohibit him or her from doing so. Social media conduct is protected by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It is seen as “people getting together to improve work conditions,” Wood said, and the employee is fully within his or her rights.

Wood brought up an example in which an unnamed company fired five people — one who posted something about work conditions on Facebook and four who commented on the post — for social media posts. The NLRB stepped in, and the employees won a lawsuit against the company.

While employees can use social media to speak about work conditions, they can’t post just anything. If a post is in any way harmful, threatening or defamatory, it is not protected. If an employee has signed an ethics policy and the post violates this policy, they can be fired.

Wood also distinguished between using a company device on company time and using a personal device on personal time. There can be repercussions for the former, but the latter is protected.

Wood closed the session by pointing out that many companies have policies regarding texting and driving or using phones at all and driving. Companies usually don’t support it. So for those of you who were planning on live-tweeting your own accident, be warned that the use of your phone may not be protected.

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