Is Your Social Media Policy Ready for the Future?

I’ve spoken in the past about the need for companies and government agencies to develop positive, empowering social media policies as quickly as possible. In presentations I’ve given, I’ve noted that people in your agency are using social media right now. (Yes, even during work hours. Yes, even though you told them not to, and yes, even though you had IT shut down access to those sites on work computers.)

Many social media policies, though, seem to be little more than, “don’t do personal business on work computers.” I think this is shameful because, for one, it teaches that you feel your employees can’t be trusted. In response, they’ll spend a considerable amount of time trying to get access around your firewall. Barring that, they’ll just access it on their phones. My response to such short-sighted policymaking is to couple a policy to training. You can use social media, but understand that what you say there can be used against the agency, against you. Empower your employees to be ambassadors for your agency.

The second reason I think that myopic policies like those above are wrong are because they completely ignore the other 128 hours in the week. And as should be readily apparent to us all now, social media and the media cycle are now 24/7. What your employees post after-hours can be just as damaging as what they post while at work. And while your agency might be absolved of blame, you still have to deal with the repercussions of the episode (which is why lawyers should not be the only folks writing social media policies).

And now we’re seeing that short-sightedness come to fruition.

Per the Wall Street Journal (and probably every other publication this morning), the National Labor Relations Board has agreed to a settlement between the American Medical Response of Connecticut ambulance service and one of their employees. late last year, the NLRB issued a complaint against the company because they fired an employee after she posted negative comments about the company on her Facebook page.

When the NLRB issued its complaint about the firing last fall, it alleged the firing was illegal because the online posting constituted “protected concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act.

That law allows employees to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment with co-workers and others, and the employee involved in the case had posted comments about her supervisor and responded to further comments from her co-workers, the NLRB said.

The NLRB had also alleged the company maintained and enforced overly broad rules in its employee handbook regarding blogging, Internet posting, and communications between employees.

Can you say the same about your company policy? Court watchers and the social media world were keeping a close eye on this case:

The case had become a test of how much latitude employees may have when posting comments about work matters from their home computers on social media sites such as Facebook.

The settlement was almost completely in favor of the complainant:

Under the terms of the settlement approved by the NLRB’s Hartford, Conn., Regional Director Jonathan Kreisberg, the company agreed to revise its rules. The company agreed not to discipline or discharge employees for engaging in discussions about wages and other work issues when not on the job, the NLRB said.

As more and more people make social media a part of their lives, our agencies’ and companies’ policies need to keep pace. If you don’t see everyone standing around the water cooler anymore at the office, that’s because they’re all on Facebook. Are you prepared for what they’re saying?