Should You Regulate Your Employees’ Use of Social Media?

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March 8, 2010 – We’ve all heard the horror stories of employees whose poor decision-making skills in the social media realm have led them into hot water with employers (i.e. Twittering that you just hit happy hour with your pals on the day that you called in sick to work). What recourse-if any-do employers have to prevent such social media faux pas?

An upcoming American Bar Association (ABA) teleconference and audio Webcast addresses the ways in which employers might handle their employees’ usage of social media and online communication. The conference, titled “Personal vs. Professional: Handling Employee Participation in Online Communities” is scheduled for 1 p.m. (EST) on Tuesday, April 27.

The ABA teleconference counts for Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits, and will explore, among other things, whether or not employers should be held responsible for how their staff behave online and what limits an employer could reasonably place on their employees’ social networking presence.

For instance, if you are a drunk driving defense attorney, certainly, you must bar your legal staff from ever talking about specific cases on their Facebook or Twitter accounts. But would you also have authority to prevent your staff from posting comments or news stories on their personal sites that paint drunk driving defendants in a negative light? Would you only do so if their profile listed you as their employer?

This very timely topic should generate some interesting discussion, and provide a good starting point for you and your management staff to talk about the appropriate ways in which your staff can use social media. Even if you decide that your employees’ personal profiles-and time-are their own to govern, it is vital that you establish clear ground rules for how your staff may use your law firm’s business profiles.

Certainly, you must limit the number of people who have access to your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, and provide a list of approved topics and preferred practices of communication when using the sites. One poorly worded Tweet or distasteful Facebook posting may have the potential to wreck havoc on your firm’s image.

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