Social Media in the Workplace: Legal Issues, Business Policies

Despite the tremendous enthusiasm for tools and technologies that shape online communications today, there can be risks and unintended consequences to business-related social media use.

Privacy, defamation, protecting confidential information, hiring and firing concerns, IP issues, harassment, false advertising… in the following reading list, JD Supra lawyers and law firms walk us through potential pitfalls and ways for companies to limit risks and liabilities relating to social media and business:

Do’s and Don’t’s of Monitoring the Activities of Employees on Social Networking Sites (by Fox Rothschild):

“For employers, the costs are real: Poor choices by their employees can
bring with it not only bad publicity but the loss of confidential
information and the risk that the employer and employee will be sued by
a third party for a wide range of legal claims, including defamation,
invasion of privacy, negligence, discrimination, false light publicity,
public disclosure of private facts, infliction of emotional distress
and violations of state and federal data breach laws.” Read more>>

Social Networking from 9-5: Unique Legal Challenges Facing Employers (by Venable LLP):

Slide presentation from a recent seminar by Venable attorneys James E. Fagan and Luisa M. Lopez. Includes a look at why employers should be concerned about employee social media use, and best practices for drafting and implementing a social media policy… Read more>>

Managing Legal Risks in Social Media (by Glenn Manishin, Duane Morris LLP):

“This presentation for the SocialLex 2010 conference — the first devoted
exclusively to law of social media — explores many of the interesting
issues posed by the real-time Web. These include intellectual property,
such as who owns user generated content, trademarks, employment,
corporate and regulatory compliance, and potential regulation. A review
of uncharted legal waters and a guide to navigating uncertainty in a
Web 2.0 world…” Read more>>

Why Every Business Should Have A Social Media Policy (by Sheppard Mullin):

“The posts of your employees reflect on your business, and can result in negative impacts to it. The damage can range from harm to the company’s brand and public perception of it to legal consequences such as loss of trade secret protections, unfair competition and deceptive advertising. A social media policy should include the following bright line rules…” Read more>>

Social Media Policies Reduce Discovery Risks: Are You Prepared? (by Armstrong Teasdale LLP):

“Until higher courts begin to weigh in on these issues … parties and
witnesses should assume that at least some of the content of their
Social Media accounts may ultimately be discoverable, regardless of
their privacy settings. For businesses, this means that implementing
Social Media policies and training employees regarding the use of
Social Media is critical to help control the risks inherent in the use
of Social Media…” Read more>>

Understanding the Impact of Social Media In the Workplace (by Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.):

Slides from a recent presentation, including a look at hiring issues, copyright laws, employee use of mobile devices, and related topics. “Employees should be told they have no expectation of privacy regarding use of the Internet and social networking sites…” Read more>>

Legal Issues with Using Social Media (by Marcus Lee):

Overview of the legal issues companies should consider when using social media. For example: “If you are using social media with your business, then you should review your insurance policies to see if you are covered for claims arising out of your use of social media…” Read more>>

FTC Guidelines May Hold Companies Liable for Unsolicited Employee Endorsements (by Warner Norcross & Judd):

“The issue is best managed through the company’s social media policy, which should: (a) prohibit employees from making false or misleading claims about the company’s products or services … or, (b) ban employees from making any comments regarding the company’s products or services in any social media. Once your company has chosen which policy path it will take, it should then ensure…” Read more>>

More On Social Media: LinkedIn Today, Gone Tomorrow (by Ruskin Moscou Faltischek):

Employment law alert that focuses on the “unintended, perhaps disastrous consequences” of business-related social media. “…one of the important elements of establishing a ‘trade secret’ claim is the ability to document that you have taken reasonable steps to protect the confidentiality of your ‘trade secret.’ Allowing the information to be readily available on LinkedIn will severely compromise a claim of having taken reasonable measures…” Read more>>

7 Elements of a Social Media Policy (by Dena Calo Turco):

From employment attorney Dena Calo Turco, seven elements of a social media policy to help businesses limit their liability. Includes: identifying what’s confidential information, language restrictions, clarification of role(s) of business related social media, and more… Read more>>

Sample Social Media Policy (by Vivienne Storey)

Template-driven sample social media policy from Australian firm BlandsLaw. Includes a reference to Australian workplace law, but serves as good universal example of the type of language that might make up a corporate social media policy… Read more>>

Also see [updated 12/08/10]:

Recommended external resources:
Social Media Policies Database by Doug Cornelius at Compliance Building
Social Media Usage Toolkit (reg req’d) by Practical Law Company

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