Yes, I’ll admit it. There is a generational aspect to my distaste for cyber-networking. For someone old enough to remember telephones with dials, it is disconcerting to watch my four-year-old granddaughter scroll through the apps on her mother’s iPhone to find a Dora the Explorer video.
It is just too easy to embarrass yourself or offend someone else. The natural filters that operate in face-to-face communications are absent when using the internet. When your bank’s employees engage in social media, your bank runs risks--very possibly without knowing it.
I am sure your bank has a policy that prohibits harassment based on sex or another of the legally protected categories. Within that policy, there is probably a definition of “hostile work environment,” and you may also conduct regular training that fleshes out the definition with examples of conduct that might give rise to a claim.
However, in my experience the policy and the training rarely, if ever, address social media.
After all, whatever use that employees make of their personal smart phones--even at work--is their private business, right? But new technology blurs the line between work and non-work. A derogatory tweet that targets a co-worker and goes viral before close of business may lead to liability for the bank, if nothing is done to curb it. Similarly, a boss who “friends” a subordinate on Facebook may be opening himself and the bank up to a claim of sexual harassment, if the employee perceives the boss is stalking her over the internet.
Add to this the potential liability for factual misrepresentations made in postings by employees, no matter if well-intentioned, and the penalties for violating copyright laws by downloading unauthorized software.
Perhaps the most prevalent risk posed by social media in the workplace is the simple loss of productivity. Although I am immune to its charms, I know that Facebook and Twitter can be addictive. With the advent of smart phones that allow “under the desk” access to the whole panoply of social media, the temptation for some employees may be overwhelming.
Oh, for the days when all a manager had to worry about was too many personal phone calls!
First of all, let’s dispose of the idea that employees’ social networking is protected by the constitutional right to free speech. That right protects individuals from the government’s suppression of speech. It is not an issue in private employment.
However, employees do have a right to privacy in the content of information if they have taken reasonable steps to keep the information private, for example, by restricting access, and if they derive some value in keeping the information private. The employer infringes the employee’s privacy if the employee’s interest in keeping the information private outweighs the employer’s interest in obtaining the information. The key in this balancing act is to manage employee expectations of privacy by a clearly communicated social media policy.
Employee rights also derive from the National Labor Relations Act. In a recent case which attracted much media attention, an employee was fired for calling her boss an ***hole on Facebook. She was angry about being denied a raise. Her post was viewed and “liked” by co-workers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charged the employer with an unfair labor practice on the basis that the post was “protected concerted action” protesting the terms and conditions of employment. The case settled for an undisclosed sum, with the employer agreeing to change its policy to reflect that employees could discuss the terms and conditions of employment, including on Facebook posts.
Other NLRB cases have come out differently, with the NLRB ruling that the employee’s social media outbursts were unprotected “individual griping.”
The distinction seems to hinge on whether the posts were the logical outgrowth of collective employee concerns, or an employee acting solely in his own self interest.
Here are some basics:
• Define social media.
• Let employees know that you are monitoring their use of social media, and that they should have no expectation of privacy.
• Social media use should not interfere with their performance of job duties.
• Employees must identify all opinions expressed as their own, and comply with all applicable laws, including copyright, privacy, and trade secrets.
• Employees must not communicate any information regarding the bank, co-workers, customers, vendors, or competitors.
• Employees should not disclose their relationship with the bank, without advance approval from the bank.
• Workplace concerns should be addressed internally with your supervisor, Human Resources, or a member of management.
But the blog also offers an opportunity to talk back. Let’s hear from you.
There are beneficial uses for social media:
• It offers access to information about job applicants not previously available.
• It allows employees to obtain banking industry-specific business and professional development information.
• It facilitates the bank’s marketing efforts with a new generation of customers.
So, please, let me know if you disagree with my Luddite outlook, or if you have more pros and cons to add to those listed here.
I welcome your comments. In the comment section below: