National Labor Relations Board Rulings Help Clarify What Employers Can and Cannot Do With Social Media Policies.
By: Jean Young, Vice President, ISM Inc.
Just when you thought tales of employers doing really dumb things re employees’ use of social media networking sites, Gartner reports employers are increasingly monitoring employee use of Facebook, YouTube and other social media networking sites. And, then you have “Shoulder” Surfing, whereby a management type literally looks over your shoulder to read your postings. Some companies are demanding workers or job applicants reveal passwords to their social media accounts but certain states, such as Maryland, ban the practice. Increasingly employers are finding ways to track employees’ online behavior.
With the country still trying to get out of a recession and jobs scarce, you would think both management and employees would not have the time for such shenanigans. Given the frequent horror stories on both sides, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Office of the General Counsel is providing some guidance. A report on seven recent NLRB rulings on employee-filed social media cases was published May 30. Only one was in favor of the employer; most cases hinged on an employer’s social media policy being “overbroad” and thus “unlawful” under the National Labor Relations Act.
In addition to these overbroad policies, ISM sees many large global companies with a proliferation of guidelines from varying departments, e.g. legal, HR, Communications — and these multiple guidelines are often in conflict with each other. Our work for a North American division of a global company with 40,000 employees uncovered six different sets of policies from various departments. This was hardly good news, but the worse news was that management was unaware of both the number of policies and the conflicting directions. Talk about a lawsuit in the making!
Our advice is the same as offered last year: Bring together the parties/departments who are or should be involved in employee social media behavior and work as a team to set overarching objectives. Then assign a team, including employee representatives, to prepare a manageable and reasonable Social Media Policy. It won’t hurt to bring in some experts and a good lawyer.