Guest post by Jennifer K. Halford, Esq.
The legal quandary about employers, employees, and Facebook continues.
Maryland's legislature recently passed a bill prohibiting employers from requesting employees' user names and passwords to Facebook and other social networks. However, federal legislation banning such requests did not pass the House of Representatives. For now it seems that states are left to decide if employers can demand passwords.
And so this quandary remains to be solved for some employers.
Yet, there are some things that employers know for certain about employees and social media.
First, employees are using it. Second, they are most likely using it at work. And third, employers must have a written policy that tells employees what they can and cannot do.
Failure to have a written internet and social media policy puts your business at risk. Here is why:
1. Employees think their computers are private: I am amazed at the number of employees who believe that everything they do on their work computer is protected by privacy rights. This is simply not true. Yet few employees know this. Your written policy should reinforce that computers and email accounts belong to your business and will be monitored.
2. You can get sued: Your business can be sued for a hostile work environment if your employees access pornography or send harassing messages through social media to other employees while at work. You need a written policy to emphasize that harassing behavior is not allowed in any format - including social media.
3. Blocking access is not enough: Employees should be using their time at work to do work. Your policy should reiterate this. Make sure your employees know that the internet and social media are tools that can help them perform their job better. They are not intended to be a distraction to performance.
You can block access to certain internet or social media sites on your business computers. But what about employees' personal cellphones? Your written policy needs to address the use of social media for personal reasons on personal devices while your employee is on the clock.
Most businesses use Facebook and other forms of social media to connect with their customers and market their products. Create an internet and social media policy to make sure your employees are using social media to your business' benefit - not to it detriment.
Jennifer K. Halford is an attorney whose practice focuses on business law and estate planning. She is also a professor at California State University, Chico, where she teaches Entrepreneurial Law.