Timothy Singlel Explains: Facebook Rights, Liberty, And Privacy For All

Nashville , TN, 02/04/2016 /SubmitPressRelease123/

Timothy Singlel Explains: Facebook Rights, Liberty, And Privacy For All  

 

Nashville TN

 

Since the inception of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, employers have been in a head to head battle between employee privacy and the need to protect the presentation of their brand. Timothy Singhel, an attorney who has counseled companies on the correct approach to the issue of social media boundaries, gives insight on some best practices to implement when developing social media policies for your organization.­­­­

In the late 1980s and 1990s, following the passage of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) in 1986, companies and employees found themselves facing legal trouble as they navigated the do’s and don’ts of appropriate email use. While the ECPA prohibited employers from intercepting electronic transmissions, the proliferation of email opened up an entirely new landscape.  Two sets of issues arose – the extent to which a company can regulate the appropriate use of its electronic systems by its employees and what liability a company might face if an employee abused that media in a manner that caused harm to another company or individual. Today, the proliferation of social media postings and comments presents similar problems.

Social media presents a wonderful forum for people gathering in electronic communities for the purpose of commenting on shared interests, and creating and consuming content.  With the average American spending six to twelve hours a month on Facebook, social media is an essential part of millions of Americans daily lives.  Unfortunately, employees sometimes demonstrate poor judgment by oversharing information about their employers or workplaces on social media. Some examples include disclosing confidential or proprietary information, disclosing personally identifiable information about co-workers in violation of the law (e.g. HIPAA), and engaging in negative personal attacks about co-workers or the company’s management. 

For their part, employers use social media in a variety of ways.  Some examples include, disseminating important information about the company, screening potential employees, monitoring current employees and obtaining information about competitors or customers.  Engaging in these activities absent any policy or analysis of the legality of such practices is fraught with peril.  The good news is that, due to the growing popularity in using social media, human resources professionals and companies are becoming more aware of the importance of a solid social media policy that provides guidelines and structure for new and current employees.   

Timothy Singhel Legal Tips: The following are general guidelines to consider regarding social media use in the workplace.

Do: Consult with counsel and familiarize yourself with applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations, including those that define an employee’s rights to engage in concerted activity and protect a broad range of off-duty conduct, as long as that conduct does not infringe upon the employer’s confidential information and trade secrets. In addition to complying with traditional employment laws, it is important to become familiar with some of the laws that specifically affect social media policy. For example, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) addresses employee rights regarding a company’s social media policy. Recent rulings and social media policy memoranda by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) further illustrate what a company may or may not do to regulate such activity. Timothy Singhel notes, “It is becoming even more imperative now for companies to develop a social media policy that addresses all of their legal concerns and takes into account the recent guidance by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stated in the three social media policy memoranda and related enforcement.  That guidance no longer applies to just unionized companies due to the NLRB’s broad application of concerted activity to all employers.  In light of that, companies should consult with their legal counsel to ensure that their social media and other employee handbook policies are not considered overly broad and too restrictive of their employees’ right to express their opinions about their terms and conditions of employment on social media websites.”  Further, new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines provide regulations for the endorsement of products on social media sites.  Therefore, if an employee is involved in product endorsement, his or her employer’s social media policy should conform to these guidelines.  Employers also need to be aware of the restrictions imposed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other laws and regulations on using social media in order to screen potential candidates since that could be considered conducting an unauthorized background check or engaging in unlawful discrimination. 

Do:  Protect confidential information. A company’s current policies pertaining to disclosure of trade secrets and confidential information should incorporate parameters regarding acceptable social media use. The casual nature of social media engagement makes it imperative that confidentiality concerns be addressed.

Do: Provide training to all employees on their rights and obligations, including the need to avoid harassment, offensive behavior, and discrimination that can lead to discipline against an employee and liability against the company. Additional training should be given to those employees charged with the enforcement of the social media policy and those charged with hiring, firing or otherwise managing the activities of other employees. Because such policies are relatively new, supervisors and human resources professionals likely need training to ensure legally appropriate compliance and execution of the social media policy in a way that advances the company’s mission and does not create any liability.

One of the greatest myths surrounding social media policies is that companies should create a lengthy set of draconian rules that mandates the proper procedure for employees surrounding their use of social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as the thousands of other social and community sites.  While it is important to set forth your employees’ rights and obligations, your company social media policy does not have to be a twenty-page novel to be effective.  In fact, the more complicated the policy becomes, the more difficult it will be for employees to follow and for companies to effectively and legally enforce.  As part of your employee handbook, all policies, including your businesses social media policy, should be written not only to inform your audience and protect the company from liability, but also as a marketing document that is short, to the point, and interesting to the audience for which it was created – your employees.   That handbook or set of policies may just need a fresh review for compliance in light of the dynamic legal landscape and recent guidance and decisions by courts and administrative agencies such as the NLRB.

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