Can You Restrict Employee Use Of Social Media?

Social media is so prevalent these days that it pervades almost all aspects of day-to-day life. Whether at home, out with friends, or on the job, individuals reach for their cell phones, peruse Facebook, and post on Instagram with alarming frequency. Indeed, the latest reports suggest that individuals spend up to 6 hours a day on their cell phones.

For employers, this can quickly translate into wasted work hours and lost productivity. As social media use increases, worker attention to detail and ability to concentrate tends to decline, and employers find that employees are getting less done in the same amount of time, leading to costly overtime hours and lost profits.

For many employers, the natural solution would seem to be restricting employee access to social media, either by blocking sites on work computers, monitoring internet activity of employees, or restricting access to phones during working hours. While these options may make sense from a productivity perspective, employers must be careful about how they seek to restrict employee rights and privacy interests.

Approaching Social Media Use in Tacoma

Employers have the right to maintain a productive working space, and to ensure that employees are truly doing work during the period of time where they are getting paid. For this reason, nothing within Washington law prohibits employers from implementing practices that restrict employee access to social media during working hours.

That said, as with any employer practice, there are good ways and bad ways to implement new policies, and taking the right approach can go a long way toward ensuring that your employees are willing to agree to your new policies and don’t engage in backlash.

First, think carefully about the type of social media that you want to restrict access to. These days, social media runs the gauntlet from Facebook to Snapchat to LinkedIN. While some of these programs may be of marginal value to your company, others may allow your employees to connect and advertise in ways that are ultimately beneficial for your company.

LinkedIn is an obvious example given the opportunities for networking and making important business connections. But depending on the industry in which you work, you may also find that employee use of sites like Facebook can also be beneficial. For example, if you own a gym and your trainers are frequently posting videos of workouts or programs available at the gym, restricting this type of activity may have a negative business consequence. It all depends on the context in which you operate.

Coming Up with a Plan and Policy

Restricting employee conduct always has the possibility of decreasing employee morale or creating a breakdown in the employee environment. The best way to avoid these types of consequences is to think carefully about the type of social media plan that you want to have and the policy that you want to implement.

Do you want to entirely block certain websites so that they are unavailable to employees while they are at work, or do you trust your employees to abide by your policies on their own if they understand what is expected of them? Do you want to allow limited social media use on certain websites or prohibit it all together? You should think carefully about what your company believes is appropriate and inappropriate social media use.

Once you have a sense of the guiding values and principles that you believe should govern social media use, the next step is to craft a company-wide policy implementing these values and best practices. Note that the policy should clearly set forth expectations for employees, how their behavior will be monitored and what will happen if they are found to be in violation of the policy. It should also designate individuals responsible for managing and implementing the policy.

Finally, as with any policy of this nature, you’ll need to train and inform your employees about these new requirements. The surest way for a policy like this to fail is when employees don’t understand what is expected of them or how their behaviors need to change.

Tread Carefully with the National Labor Relations Act

All employers should be aware that Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects two or more employees who work together online to improve the terms and conditions of their employment. Any social media policy that you may implement at your company must be aware of this protection and avoid violations of the NLRA.

For example, if you learn that your employees are attempting to organize to create a union at your office through the use of a Facebook group, this should not be the impetus for any company decision to restrict or reduce social media use. Moreover, if your social media policy could be read to interfere with the rights set forth in Section 7, this may be the basis for a labor complaint.

If you’re uncertain about whether your policy may conflict, the National Labor Relations Board has recently issued multiple decisions on the subject of social media use by employees and you should review these options. You should also speak with an employment law attorney and have your policy reviewed prior to implementation.

Washington Attorneys Assisting You in Addressing Social Media

Those in the employment law world understand that social media is increasingly an issue of concern for employers, and for very valid reasons. No one disagrees that employers should be entitled to have their employees focus on their job while they are at it and avoid excessive and distracting social media use.

At the same time, employees have rights under the National Labor Relations Act and have fundamental privacy rights as well. Employers must be very careful to respect these rights when addressing social media and should not be overzealous in their efforts to shut down social media use.

At Bolan Law Group., our employment law attorneys can work with you to craft a comprehensive social media plan, and can review any social media policy you may wish to implement. We can also assist you in handling employee disciplinary issues related to social media use. For more information or to schedule an initial consultation, contact us online or at (253) 470-2356.

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