As time goes by, I am more convinced than ever that your agency should not have a separate social media policy.
This isn’t a popular idea. A workgroup for the Agent’s Council for Technology (ACT) spent many hours developing a sample social media policy for agencies to use as a template.
As the use of social platforms increases, concerns arise on how best to monitor and police use within agency organizations. Many seminars exist on how to write such a policy. Law firms can even give you guidance on how to make your existing policy better. You may have people in your own organization who are asking what you are doing about your social media policy.
Because so many organizations have created—and enforced—social media policies, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has taken notice. Over the last couple of years, they have taken on individual cases to determine which policies are legal, and which are not, and have issued several reports.
NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon recently issued a third report on social media cases, this time focusing exclusively on policies governing the use of social media by employees. In this report, the NLRB made almost everybody’s social media policy illegal. It undercut even the most seemingly reasonable provisions because they had the potential to violate employees’ rights to free association and union organizing.
How did this happen? How could so many smart people be so wrong on this issue?
It’s quite simple: our current labor laws were created in the industrial-era and are outdated. Existing social media policies are crafted in the context of modern technology. They are also written by a new generation of lawyers and HR staff who don’t understand how the government views employee rights and employment issues.
The overall theme in the NLRB report is that the written restrictions on social media speech are typically overreaching and encroach on free speech. This confirms that social media is simply another communications channel. It may be a game-changer channel, but it is still simply a new type of channel.
This is why I have encouraged organizations to have an “Electronic Communications Policy” as part of their existing employee handbook. Handbook templates and manuals are written, by and large, by companies and consultants who understand how the government thinks. They are last-gen and old tech so their rules and restrictions are legal in the government’s eyes. This is also why they are typically so boring to read. But they don’t overreach the way existing social media policies do, and as such, they are the best tool to use in dealing with employee behavior through social media.
Your handbook should have policies about employee handling of confidential information. It should also have policies about gossip, wasting time at work (like surfing Facebook on the job), employee relationships with each other and management, who is authorized to speak for the company, etc.
Opinions on social media tend to fall into two camps: those who use it outside the corporate environment tend to feel that there should be no restrictions at all, while those in high-control management environments (bank-owned agencies?) think no employee should be allowed to use it except to promote the company. The common-sense middle ground for agency owners and managers is to save the money you would spend on buying, writing, and/or enforcing a social media policy and just use your existing handbook.
If you disagree, I invite you to reply to this article with an issue you’ve faced in your workplace. I’ll bet there’s a handbook policy that covers it—and I’ll prove it to you.