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employee social media policies

The Office of Government Ethics has released social media Standards of Conduct for government employees.

Employee social media posting remains a perplexing issue for many organizations. Some fear their employees may post ill-advised, embarrassing, or confidential information. Some encourage employees to mention their company and strive to transform employees into social media brand advocates.

An employee social media policy can set guidelines for employee behavior on line, help prevent public relations crisis, and offer recourse against improper employee behavior.

Like many private organizations, government agencies are evidentially unsure how to proceed. Responding to growing number of questions about employee social media use from government agencies, the Office of Government Ethics created the social media Standards of Conduct. Companies may wish to examine the new guidelines when developing their own policies.

These are some key aspects of the rules.

Use of job titles. The standards forbid employees to use their government titles in personal social media accounts in any way that creates the appearance of government endorsement or approval. Employees can include their titles in biographical sections of their accounts and are typically not required to include disclaimers disavowing government endorsement, but are encouraged to do so if there’s likely to be any doubt or confusion.

Recommendations. Employees may use their job title when recommending others if the network includes the title automatically. However, employees must not “affirmatively choose to include a reference to the employee’s title, position, or employer in a recommendation” without explicit permission.

Fundraising. Employees may raise funds for nonprofits through their accounts. But they may not personally solicit funds from a subordinate and may not respond to fundraising inquiries posted by subordinates or certain other prohibited sources.

The Social Media Dilemma

Private organizations attempting to develop social media policies for employees face a balancing act. The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employers cannot interfere with employees’ rights to act collectively and cannot forbid workers from commenting on their work life on social media. However, companies can require employees to sign confidentiality contracts, and they have legal recourse if harmed by an employee’s posts.

Philip Wang, an attorney specializing in labor relations with DLA Piper, provides a sample social media policy. Here’s a summary of the basic elements of what employers can tell their employees:

Think before posting. You are responsible for what you post. Keep in mind that if your conduct adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow employees, or the company’s business interests, it may result in disciplinary action including termination.

Follow the rules. Know the company’s policies and rules. Inappropriate postings, such as discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or other inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated.

Be respectful. Be courteous to fellow employees, clients, customers and business partners. Avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that are malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparage employees or customer or that might constitute harassment or bullying.

Be truthful. Never post any information or rumors that you know to be false about company, fellow employees, customers, business partners or competitors.

Keep secrets. Do not disclose company trade secrets or confidential information. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications.

Organizations may benefit by providing employees who are active on social media with a training program on company time. While written guidelines may stress the “don’ts” of social media, a training program can focus on what employees can actually do on social media to benefit the company and themselves.

Bottom Line: An employee social media policy can help prevent employees from posting damaging comments and can thwart public relations crises. The best policies consider both the company’s interest and employees’ rights. If policies don’t meet labor regulations, they can be ruled invalid.