The world of today is “lived largely” on social media. Millennials, Gen Z, Gen Alpha, and some who are just very social and want an easy way to stay in touch with others can be found frequently posting their thoughts and experiences on social media. Companies that would never have considered social media as a platform for reaching potential customers five years ago now have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, and posts anywhere else a customer can be found.
With this new environment comes the challenge of controlling information shared by and about the company from those in leadership to the newest employee. Because a company’s online presence can be critical to its success, what is said by and about the company should, to the extent it is within the company’s control, be subject to reasonable limitations.
In other words,any company that cares about its social media presence should have a social media policy. If that isn’t convincing, think about it this way. A company that doesn’t want to be sued because an employee “speaking” for the company makes a rash or inflammatory statement in a manner that could be construed as endorsed or sponsored by the company needs a social media policy.
Now for the hard part. How can a company control speech which is related to or could reflect negatively on the company without interfering with an individual’s right to free speech? The answer is “very carefully.” Your social media policy should be targeted to speech which could reasonably be construed as being sponsored or endorsed by the company, or that which purports to be a reflection on the company’s values or processes. If a type of speech is prohibited, such as hate speech against a population of Americans, the policy should clearly say so and give examples. It should also put the potential violator on notice that egregious posts can result in termination of employment.
However, your social media policy should also make it clear that an individual has the right to share his or her beliefs and opinions, even if contrary to the company or society in general, provided those “shares” are clearly made on that person’s own social media pages and not on the company’s social platforms, such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Think of speech which would be appropriate to share in the company lunchroom versus speech which should be shared in the company parking lot, or better yet the coffee shop off company property.
As in any area of employee management, providing clear guidelines and applying those guidelines uniformly will be key to avoiding claims of disparate treatment, censoring, etc.
Having a policy that is clear and enforced can also help should someone post something truly inappropriate and offensive to a fellow employee or someone outside the company. If a claim is lodged against the company that clearly prohibits the offending behavior, assuming it is violative of the policy, having a policy in place that is enforced as appropriate can help avoid or at least minimize liability.
It’s also, if I may speak personally, the right thing to do. None of us should want to be the thought police and should in fact celebrate that we live in a county where it’s still OK — mostly — to have differing beliefs and opinions. Being kind and being thoughtful of these differences will (hopefully) create a more pleasant work and social environment.
Author’s note: This article is provided for educational reasons exclusively and is not meant to be construed as legal advice. Ensley Benitez Law, PC, will represent you only after being retained and that agreement is made in writing.
About the author: Karen Ensley is a Board-Certified Construction Law Attorney with Ensley Benitez Law, PC, in Dallas, Texas. She can be reached at (469) 983-6500 or email@example.com.