More companies are becoming a part of the social networking community – setting up Facebook pages, “friending” their employees and customers, and so on. Businesses use these sites for a variety of purposes including marketing; client, employee and government relations; and community involvement. With lawmaking bodies and courts just beginning to struggle with the range of issues these new media create, companies should exercise caution and monitor the legal, technical, and other developments that may affect their involvement.
Companies already a part of (or thinking of joining) the social networking community should consider the effects on employee relations. In theory, the risks inherent in interactions between/among the company and/or its employees in a social networking environment are similar to risks the company faces in more traditional workplace settings such as the office or company-sponsored events. Online media, however, create some interesting questions:
- Are all of your employees aware of the company site so as not to feel left out?
- Do employees feel as if they must participate on the site – such as accepting other employees as “friends,” or agreeing with company posts? Do they need to be compensated for participation?
- Does a supervisor accepting some employees as friends and not others raise discrimination risks and morale concerns?
- Are employees free to dissent from company positions on its site? How far can employees go? Disciplining or terminating an individual’s employment with the company for activity on the company’s site or some other online social media can be risky on a number of grounds – such as under whistleblower laws (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley and state/local laws), the National Labor Relations Act, and anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws.
- Does active company management of the site constitute monitoring of employee communications?
- How does the company handle the information about employees (and their dependents, friends and others) it may have access to as part of the employees’ participation in the network?
For sure, there are many areas about which companies need to think through as they consider their direct participation in the social networking community – the services of the social network provider, promoting the company’s presence in the community, consumer protection, copyright protections, and so on. Even the list above only begins to scratch the surface of the range of employment law issues that arise when an employer participates in this media.