The Challenge of Facebook (and other social networking sites)

Washington Representative Jay Inslee fires staff members for making nasty comments on Facebook.  College team coaches demand they be ‘friended’ on Facebook before allowing someone on the team in order to monitor their activities.  Privacy rights groups rally supporters because some employers require they be ‘friended’ on Facebook before they agree to hire someone.  Yikes!  What’s the right thing for an employer to do here if they’re worried about what their employees might say about them on social networking sites???

 I’ve been thinking about this question and the varied responses to it.  How should  employers approach their employees’ inclinations to do and say things publicly that could have negative repercussions on the organization? We have a right to say what we want, don’t we?  Remember freedom of speech?  Yes…but…

 I was very pleased to learn that SkagitCounty, Washington recently developed a policy to address this very issue.  It’s short, to the point, and tells employees what the rules, expectations and possible consequences are:

Employees should assume their free speech (including letters to the editor, communication through social media outlets, presentations, etc.) could have an impact on their position at SkagitCounty. Employees have the right to express themselves as individuals. However if an employee’s free speech damages working relationships or negatively affects the public perception of Skagit County that may be grounds for corrective action, up to and including termination of employment. This is because such statements can undermine the agency’s mission, purpose and reputation.

Employees do not have the right to represent themselves as speaking on behalf of SkagitCounty unless they are officially authorized to do so. Additionally any County business conducted on personal social networking accounts or web sites may be subject to Public Disclosure Laws even if produced on personal time or equipment.

This policy is not intended to and will not be applied to improperly restrict employees from engaging in concerted activity, including discussing their wages, hours and working conditions with other employees.

 ****

Does that mean I can’t say my boss is an SOB and my coworker’s an idiot on my Facebook page?  Yes, it does.  Does it mean I can’t boast on Facebook about using the company cell phone to talk to my mom inTallahassee?  Well, I can – but there could be serious consequences.  And, if I work for a public agency, at least in the state ofWashington, all of that could land on the front page of the newspaper after a public records request because I’m talking about my work in the public sphere.

It’s likely that at some point this issue will be addressed in a lawsuit from one side or the other.  Meanwhile, I’d strongly suggest that every employer create a policy that clearly states your expectations for your employees – and I’d encourage you to use SkagitCounty’s as a model.

Have you been dealing with social networking issues at your workplace?  Tell us what’s going on!  ~Daphne Schneider

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