For as long as I’ve been writing about the National Labor Relations Board and social-media use policies, I’ve been advising businesses to ensure that their policies and guidelines for employees are reviewed and vetted by legal counsel. That’s because the NLRB hasn’t been a bit shy in ruling that a number of employers have violated the National Labor Relations Act when setting such policies. The problem was that the board hasn’t exactly been forthcoming in providing specific guidance with respect to what it wants to see in such policies and guidelines in the first place.
That all changed recently when the agency -- which is responsible for, among other things, investigating and remedying unfair labor practices -- issued a 27-page memo (PDF) on the topic. In it, the board reviewed social-media policies from several businesses that it claims run the risk of infringing on employees’ free speech and labor rights, then offered guidance for businesses going forward.
Among the recommendations to businesses when creating and distributing social media policies for employees are the following six points:
1. Know and follow the rules: All of your employees should be urged to read your social media policies and guidelines, and you should make it perfectly clear what is considered inappropriate, being assured that such acts will not be tolerated.
2. Be respectful: The board suggests that your policy explicitly state that employees should be “fair and courteous to fellow associates, customers, members, suppliers or people who work on behalf of the employer.”
3. Be honest and accurate: This includes never posting information or rumors that are known to be false.
4. Post only appropriate and respectful content: Specifically, maintain the confidentiality of company trade secrets and private or confidential information; express only personal opinions; don’t represent yourself as a company spokesperson without permission.
5. Use of social media at work: Don’t use company equipment for personal messaging unless it is work related.
6. Media contacts: Don’t speak to the press without checking with the company’s human-resources department or function beforehand.
The NLRB acknowledges in the memo that more fine-tuning of social media policies and guidelines on the part of employers will be necessary in the future. For example, warning employees about releasing confidential materials online might sound reasonable, but such action might prohibit those very same employees from discussing and disclosing information regarding their own conditions of employment, which the board considers a "protected concerted activity."
Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. For more information, visit MikalBelicove.com.