Social media has become a ubiquitous part of everyone’s daily life, including professional life. Furthermore, applying a balanced approach toward social medial policies at the workplace is essential for protecting the rights, privacy, and interests of both employees and employers. An experienced corporate law attorney can provide invaluable insight into developing solid policies for social media use at the workplace.
Here are a few important legal implications of using social media at the workplace, which you should be aware of as an employee or employer.
Intellectual Property Rights
When employees use social networking sites at work, employers have a real fear of the loss of confidential information. Companies can be exposed to potential lawsuits for HIPAA violations and disclosure of secrets. Employees may use social media to inadvertently disclose protectable third-party information, trade secrets, confidential information, and medical information among other things.
Clients may also sue the business for disclosure of secrets and cause irretrievable loss of reputation. Widespread use of emails has always carried risk in some measure. But, the dissemination of information through social media is much faster and can quickly reach a larger audience.
Employers should make sure that they have proper intellectual property rights to any content. They should also have solid contracts and policies in place to prevent employees from infringing on their rights and using or sharing any content without permission.
Impact on the Right to Privacy
The right to privacy is a significant legal issue surrounding the use of social media in the workplace. Employees are fair in assuming a reasonable level of privacy where personal social media accounts are concerned. Employers may not monitor or access these accounts without a legitimate reason or employee consent.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. For instance, the employer may ask for access if an employee’s digital media conduct has a direct impact on a client or violates company policies. Taking this into account, it cannot be used for discrimination. Several hiring and recruiting managers use social media for performing background checks or screening job applicants.
Employers are not supposed to lift the personal information of candidates from their social media accounts. Anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from inquiring about an applicant’s religion, age, sexual orientation, national origin, and disability.
Dangers to Privilege
There are several legal hurdles to attempting to monitor a worker’s online presence. These are muddy waters and should be best discussed with a knowledgeable employment law attorney. You may find yourself embroiled in a privacy-related claim with unregulated monitoring. In Pietrylo v. Hillstone Restaurant Group, the jury awarded compensation to the employee after finding that the restaurant group violated the federal Stored Communications Act.
This Act makes it illegal for employers to intentionally gain access to stored information and communication without prior authorization from the employee. The restaurant manager had asked the worker to share their password in a private MySpace chat room. The manager accessed the room and reviewed the content.
The jury’s verdict was affirmed by the court, and they concluded that the worker’s purported “authorization” was provided under pressure and coerced. The jury also concluded that the manager’s review of the chat space was intentional.
Defamation and Discrimination Based on Social Media Findings
Digital crime is on the rise and social media use at the workplace can easily lead to harassment and defamation. Employees may post content or comments on social media channels that are harassing or defamatory towards clients, colleagues, and customers. Workers have a responsibility of addressing such behavior for ensuring that it doesn’t violate the rights of others or create a hostile work environment.
Social media blurs professional and personal lines of communication and behavior. Individuals don’t pay as much attention to their postings and inadvertently say more than what they would have in an email. This compounds the risk for employers.
Discrimination claims arising from social media usage of employees are a potentially costly and significant risk to the employer. In fact, organizations are exposed to such claims even before they hire the applicant or after the applicant leaves the company.
Legal Implications on Data Protection and Cybersecurity
Social media use can pose data protection and cybersecurity risks for businesses. Workers may share confidential or sensitive information on social media. They may fall prey to cyber-attacks or phishing scams. It is important for employers to take the right measures for data protection and for ensuring that their workers are trained in recognizing and preventing cyber threats.
Potential Government Enforcement Action
Social media use at the workplace may also give rise to government enforcement actions for improper online conduct. Employers can be held liable if their workers use social media for commenting on the employer’s products and services if it is in violation of the guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Discuss a Strong Legal Strategy with our Employment Law Attorneys
The experienced employment law attorneys at the BHM Law Group have the legal skills, resources, and knowledge to help organizations design, develop, and implement sound policies for preventing legal action against them. Our attorneys take pride in offering expert advice that is easy to understand and implement. To schedule your consultation, call us at (205) 994-0902 or fill out this online contact form.