Does Your Employer Have a Social Media Policy?

Social Media Policy: How To Write It by cambodia4kidsorg from Flickr
Social Media Policy: How To Write It by cambodia4kidsorg from Flickr

Does your company handbook have a social media policy in it? And I mean a policy that talks about what you can and can’t say on your social media accounts. I don’t mean the policy that a lot of employers have about not being on Facebook and Twitter during company time or on company computers.

Seriously, go check. I’ll wait.

If you don’t have one, don’t feel bad. About a year ago 76% of companies didn’t have a social media policy. That’s disturbing. I’m surprised when I meet someone who isn’t involved in some type of social media. It’s staggering that employers haven’t kept up with the times.

People visit this site all the time looking for information about what their employers can and can’t do regarding social media – Can my employer require me to promote them with my personal Facebook account? (No.) Can my employer control my Facebook? (No.) Can my employer require me to delete my social media account? (No.) Can my employer print my Facebook pictures? (Yes.) Can I be fired for how I spend my personal time? (Maybe.) Can my employer monitor my personal Facebook page? (If it’s public, yes.)

That’s just a handful of the questions I’ve gotten in the last month.

The issue is clear – If your employer doesn’t have a social media policy, ask for one. And tell them they better check the latest report from the NLRB before they write it.

Left to their own devices, most employers will write a social media policy that says you have to promote the company with your personal accounts and/or you can’t say anything negative about the company online. Both of these provisions are illegal. The former violates Facebook’s terms of service; the later violates the NLRA.

What’s the NLRA? It stands for National Labor Relations Act. It protects employees’ abilities to talk amongst themselves about things like wages and work conditions. You’re allowed to do it publicly (even on the internet) and you don’t have to be respectful about it. If you’re ever fired for something you did on your social media account and you think it was protected by the NLRA, you can file a complaint with your employer with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In the worst-case scenario, your employer will be required to give you back pay, pay you damages, and offer you your job back.

My lawyer friend who litigates these cases recently told me that $10,000 was a low amount that an employer would be ordered to pay in these situations if they fired someone for a reason that violated the NLRA.

I tell every employer that they need a social media policy that provides a list of dos and don’ts for employees. I also tell them to hire an attorney to write the policy for them to ensure that it complies with the NLRA. Then I tell them to at least have their attorney review it every 6 months. The NLRB regularly publishes new reports based on their cases so the policy that was valid when it was written may be invalid now.

This is one of those times when you can’t just download a social media policy template and call it good. This area of law is changing too often.

It’s better to pay a chunk of money now to have someone write your social media policy than to have to pay $10,000+ in back pay, damages, attorneys’ fees, plus whatever it costs for your headache and stomach pain medication to treat the stress of dealing with an NLRB investigation. This is a problem a lot of employers don’t realize they have until it’s too late, and it doesn’t have to be. Call an attorney who understands social media and the NLRB to draft your policy for you.

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52 responses to “Does Your Employer Have a Social Media Policy?”

  1. You don’t necessarily need a lawyer to write up a social media policy. Though social media can be a minefield of libelous comments and dodgy territory, it can be just a case of ensuring your company has someone at the social media helm who knows not to pass comment on anything legal or unfounded and stick to facts and actual news. Here at we have a social media manager who deals with a number of different companies social media presence and he knows to stick to facts, not to pass comment on anything involving the law or comment on accusation. It is all a case of common sense. Something a lot of people don’t have on social media, unfortunately!

    • This is a good start for companies who manage other companies’ social media presence. Every company needs its own policy regarding employees’ personal social media accounts as well so that employees and the employer understand their dos and don’ts when it comes to personal postings.

  2. My case is a unique one, but hoping you can provide some insight. My employer, technically speaking, is a contracting company. However, my contract is with a large company and, for all intents and purposes, I am an employee of that company (I’ll refer to it as X). I have an X-issued email address and computer, I sit in a cube at X office, X sends me on business trips, and I am treated the same ad any X employee. The only difference is that I don’t get my paycheck (or benefits) from X. Legally speaking, my employer is the contracting agency. That being said, I feel like an X employee and culturally I am.

    On my LinkedIn profile, I post that I am an employee of X. However, I’ve just learned that my contract with the contracting agency says that I must list them as my employer. Sure, they *are* my employer, but I know no other employees (contractors) from that company and the people with which I want to network are X employees. If they were to search for me, logically they would look for my name at X. Apparently doing this is a breach of contract and grounds for dismissal. Is this legal? Why should my employer, whether an agency OR X, be able to dictate what I post on my account? Isn’t that my personal property? The way I see it, I should be able to post that I am employed by company ABC, even if it is completely false. The first amendment applies here, does it not?

  3. I was recently hired at a small drug store which is requiring me to post a disclaimer for them on my facebook page. Is this lawful?

    • Ooohh – that’s an interesting question. You should probably schedule an appointment with a lawyer to discuss the exact verbiage they want you to post in the disclaimer.

  4. My wife posted positive input on a situation that happened at my work place. There is no current social media protocol at my work. I asked her to delete it and she did. My boss told me she must not post anything regarding my work on so dial media. My boss has no control over my wife or what she puts. Now my wife is upset and tried to schedule a meeting with my boss regarding the issue. Is there anything helpful she can say to prove there is nothing my boss can do to her or me about this? Expecially being I don’t even use social media.

    • I guess if I were in this situation, my first desire would be to understand the boss’ concerns and then try to provide resources if he has misinformation or needs an education regarding what restrictions he can put on employees and their spouses.

  5. Here’s another one to add to the mix – can your boss ask the entire company (small business) to remove a connection on LinkedIn after that individual was fired (for illegal activity)?

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    • It depends on the situation. You’d have to have an attorney in your community evaluate the situation based on the applicable state law.

  7. Recently my employer said we are not allowed to say we work for the company on any social media and any resumes. Is this legal?

    • This is one of those potential gray areas. You’d need to talk with an attorney who can fully examine the situation to be able to give you a definitive answer.

  8. I work as a bartender for a corporate restaurant chain. Recently they have asked that we either allow them to post or we ourselves create some kind of ‘meet the bartender’ blurb with a picture, our names, etc. I am not into this idea at all and I do not appreciate feeling pressured into doing it. Is it legal for them to ‘make’ me participate? Does NLRA have some kind of protection for this? Especially considering I am paid only $5/hour and have been offered no additional compensation if I allow them to use my picture to promote their business.
    Please help!
    What can I tell my bosses, politely of course, that will get them to back off?
    -Not Offering to Post Ever

    • You’d have to have an attorney in your community review your employment contract and the applicable laws to get an answer to your question. You can always tell your supervisor and HR that you’re uncomfortable with their idea.

    • These questions have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. It doesn’t have a simple yes/no answer. You should talk with your HR department or a lawyer who can review your employment situation.

  9. I was recently fired due to posting jokes on Facebook that contained swear words and had nothing to do with the company. I was given no warning, no policy, and I worked there 4.5 years as a independent contractor and worked from home. Now they are demanding I remove their company name from all my social media accounts even though I did ad the date of last employment. Can they do that?

    • I’ve never heard of a case where an employer was allowed to tell someone to remove their past employment from their social media profiles. That would be odd, espeically on sites like LinkedIn that are essentially an online resume. You would have to talk with an employment lawyer in your state to know for sure what they can’t and can force you to do with your personal social media accounts in regards to your past employment.

      • Thanks for your response. Since this company has consultants in different states and they are located in New Jersey would New Jersey law apply or Ohio law where I live?

  10. Today my boss told me, I have to accept his request to be a friend on FB or I should clock out, also, I am a dental hygienist and he prohibit me to have patients on my FB. Is this legal?

    • When it comes to connecting with patients online, I suspect your employer might have HIPAA concerns – but what if someone was a friend before they became a patient of their practice?

      If social media isn’t part of your job, I’d question why the boss wants to be connected with you on FB. He/she can follow you and see all your public posts. I would probably say that I’m a very private person and I primarily use FB to connect with close friends so it seems inappropriate and unprofessional to accept his/her friend request. You may also want to reach out to your state’s licensing board for dentists for guidance.

      If you want to have a discussion about whether your boss’ request is legal, you should talk with a lawyer in your community who specializes in this topic.

  11. Fat Tuesday wants their employees to promote them on their personal FB accounts. Is it okay for a business to do that? My boss thought it was a great idea and wants to do it here now. Can they make us? They haven’t come right out and said our job is dependent on it, but it’s been pretty much implied.

    • I’d review the Facebook terms of service to see what they say about this. There may be different rules if you want to voluntarily promote your employer on your own FB profile and if your employer wants to require employees to promote them.

      • no, there is no media policy at all and he is also using this to pick on me and my work . Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question .

  12. Can your employer tell you that you can not be friends with anyone under the age of 18 except your own children? I have nieces and nephews plus my children’s friends. This is one way I use to keep up with what all my kids and their friends are doing.

    • That seems like a weird rule. I’d probably bring the fact that you have family members and friends of your children who are under 18 to his/her attention and see how he/she reacts. I would explore what their concern is and see if there’s a way to revise this guidelines to better address this issue.

  13. I shared a funny post about “tomorrow is slap an annoying co-worker day….” I was called into the office after a “friend” printed it off and gave it to my immediate supervisor. Btw, my account is NOT set to Public but only friends. Now I’m told I will receive a verbal or written warning for this. Also, 3 of my co-workers “liked” the shared post but are not being addressed. I intend to go to my HR Department. What are my rights here?

    • There is no expectation of privacy in anything you post online, including a Facebook post you make accessible only to your “friends.” Anyone can show your “private” Facebook posts to your boss and there’s nothing you can do about it:

      This is why I say you should assume that everything you post online (regardless of privacy settings) will be seen by your best friend, worst enemy, boss, and mother.
      Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t put on the front page of the newspaper or on a billboard.

    • No policy. HR said a co-worker printed it out because it made them feel threatened. The 3 other co-workers who “liked” the post (I guess, part of my gang…..Oh brother) were not spoken to about this. The thing is, I have no enemies (or so I thought) at work. The only person I have any tension with is my immediate supervisor and she’s not even on FB. The only people I have as friends know that I’m a loving, honest, call it like it is but hope for the best, stellar employee and person. Just goes to show that a temporary lapse of judgement can s ur bite you in the butt good. Beware of your sense of humor …..

  14. I was fired from my position because my employer saw a picture (G rated selfie) on my Facebook page that I took while at work but I was not on duty at the time. Was it her legal right to do so?

    • That would depend on the rules of your state/country and the terms of your employment contract. In the U.S., if you are an at-will employee, you can be fired for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as it doesn’t violate the law. If you’re in that situation, your boss can likely fire you for a G-rated selfie.

  15. I posted something to my FB page not mentioning any names or directed at anyone in particular. It was also vague on subject. Today my supervisor brought a printed picture of it to me because apparently someone saw it and thought it was about them. It has nothing to do with them or work. Can he control what I say on my own page especially if it makes no reference to specific people or work or subjects?

    • Your situation demonstrates how you have to assume your coworkers and boss will see everything you post online. If I were in this situation, I’d probably acknowledge their concerns and point out that the post is so vague that it’s not about anybody about work. The challenge with vague posts is they can be misinterpreted.

      • I did always assume they will see it. But they should not assume it’s about them as well. What do I do, post a disclaimer every time I post so they know it’s not about them? I could see if I’d posted it on the company FB page, but my own? If they think it’s about them, then they must have the guilty conscience, not me.

  16. Hi I’m a barber . I recently changed employment and my ex employer when emailing me my p45 told me to remove any photography relating to her business from all forms of my social media. Tas a barber a huge part if our job is promoting our cuts on social media . I would have to delete everything from the last 2 years . Also my ex employer has 2 years of my work posted on her business page which she’s not removing . Do I have to delete my pictures ? Thank you !.

    • If you want a legal opinion, you probably would have to have a lawyer review your employment contract and your state laws that apply to these types of scenarios. Good luck!

  17. I work in TX for a private organization. Recently we were informed a social media policy was in the works. In the mean time we were informed there would be a moratorium on employees using social media to post political views (during a heated time in US history). Like you mentioned above in your article, they said this would pertain to personal social media accounts and what we can and cannot post, regardless of time/date, off or on the clock. Is this ok? Legal? The organization is a non profit that works in government advocacy. There is no idea of when the moratorium will last, what the specifics are or how it will be enforced, implemented or punished. Your thoughts?

  18. My boss told me that I have to erase a picture of myself and a few coworkers together on our day off meeting for a drink. We were all ordered to remove it and not post anything like that again. Is that allowed? We’re all old enough to drink, and we were not involved in any illegal activity, we just decided to meet for a drink on our days off.

    • I suspect the issue isn’t whether you’re allowed to legally drink, but how that image could impact the company’s reputation. Yes, it’s possible that what your boss did was legal.

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