How to Help Your Company Avoid Social Media Messes

by Derek Ross

Did you see the latest social media misstep? Pittsburgh Steelers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown posted a 17-minute Facebook Live video depicting the Steelers’ locker-room celebration after a big playoff win. In addition to showing a few of his teammates in the process of getting dressed, Brown’s video featured some strong language from Head Coach Mike Tomlin regarding the New England Patriots.

While social media can be a great way to build a company’s brand and image, the improper use of social media by that organization’s employees can have the opposite outcome, as the Steelers experienced. That risk leaves many employers wondering how to manage their employees’ social media use and its potential impact on their organizations.

Responding to Brown’s video, Tomlin stated “I’ll be bluntly honest here. It was foolish for him to do that. It was selfish for him to do that, and it was inconsiderate for him to do that. Not only is it a violation of our policy, it’s a violation of league policy – both of which he knows.”

Brown’s actions were a clear violation of the leagues’ policy. I am sure no one was happy about this disruption to the team’s momentum either. Although Mr. Brown did apologized, the damage is done. Once a video is up and out in the world you cannot ever get it back and the damage is everlasting.

Another recent example involves the well-known sandwich chain, Jimmy John’s. In January of this year an employee was “jumping rope” with fresh dough. The employee then posted it to Facebook. The post instantly went viral and the employee was later fired after a company investigation. Jimmy John’s did address the posting immediately and assured the public that the dough seen in the video was disposed of and not sold to customers. But once again, the damage was already done.

In both of these cases, employees caused havoc for their organizations and posted information about their company while at work.

So, what is best? There are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and your employees. First, employees need to know that they could be putting their jobs on the line if they post anything to social media, including pictures or videos of the workplace, if those postings are unlawful, include discriminatory or abusive language, are maliciously false, or violate company policies such as Anti-Harassment or Confidential Information. The only way to ensure that understanding is with a Social Media policy that is carefully written, clearly communicated and consistently enforced. Including specific examples of prohibited conduct may help define the boundaries more clearly. You can also require that your employees make it clear in their social media activity that they are speaking on their own behalf and not on behalf of the Company and that any statements made about the Company or any other employees must be truthful and accurate.

Remember that the National Labor Relations Board is very particular about these policies. Avoid any language that could be interpreted as an attempt to limit an employee’s protected right to “concerted activity”. In other words, avoid broad language that is too restrictive. It also helps to include a disclaimer stating that the policy is not intended to restrict communications or actions protected or required by state or federal law.

Second, supervisors need to be trained to proceed with caution when dealing with social media issues. If confronted with a public relations nightmare created by a rogue employee using social media, make sure the company’s response is appropriate. Organizations may be ordered to provide back pay and reinstatement if it is determined that the employee was wrongfully terminated. It is best to check with an HR professional to assess whether a specific posting is protected by law.

If you are an employer with questions about Social Media policies, discipline, terminations or employment laws, please contact ECRM’s Human Resources professionals by emailing us at HRHelpline@eastcoastrm.com. Please note that our helpline is for employers only. Employees with HR-related questions should consult their company’s HR department or an attorney.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this web site is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Use of and access to this web site does not create an attorney-client relationship between East Coast Risk Management or our employment attorney and the user or browser.

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