Always Connected: Legal Issues Relating to Social Media & Portable Devices
We asked Ron Peppe, VP of Legal and Human Resources for Canam Steel Corporation to share his insights on the emerging legal issues related to the proliferation of portable communcation devices and social media and how executives can improve their policies to protect their organization and their employees.
With social media becoming a part of our everyday life, what do you feel are the three biggest things companies should look out for?
First, social media provides a means for everything to go everywhere immediately. Traditional lines of control and management of communications do not apply well, since any employee can put anything out there instantly. Companies risk disclosure of confidential information, or of correct or incorrect information that poses reputational risk to the company.
Second, social media is by its nature collaborative, so information posted by employees can easily subject companies to a variety of labor issues under the National Labor Relations Act, even for non-union companies that are not familiar with the rules. Third, companies are used to having some control over what employees say and do, and managers can easily overstep the growing number of federal and state prohibitions on some employer actions in this area.
Some new state laws block employers from demanding to view employee’s social media pages. Do you think this is something that is beneficial or hurtful? Why?
These new laws reflect the tension between the traditional concept that an employer has a large degree of control over what an employee says and does. There used to be a concept that anything an employee did at work, especially using employer tools such as email, computers, networks, is fair game for an employer to review and control. These new laws attempt to draw a line between work and personal information, and prohibit employers from crossing that line. While some employers lament the loss of control, the reality is that the new tools and new generations in the workforce require changes if employers want to continue to attract and retain good workers.
How would you suggest a company should craft a social media policy? What are the key areas they need to cover?
Aside from the practical considerations and the philosophical issues of how much control an employee wants or needs, companies need to be aware of the recent pronouncements from the National Labor Relations Board that greatly limit what the company might otherwise see as a reasonable and legal policy. One of the main concepts in the recent NLRB pronouncements is that a policy needs to be narrowly tailored and must provide very clear and specific guidance so that the policy does not discuss certain work conditions together.
What are some ways companies can take advantage of social media outlets?
Different social media platforms provide different tools, but they all provide significant benefits to companies. First, companies can use social media tools internally to enable greater communication and collaboration among employees, especially now that we have a geographically diverse workforce that works on flexible schedules. Second, such tools also provide greater opportunities to stay in touch with clients and market preferences by providing two-way and collaborative communication with the customers. Third, smart companies can monitor what the competition is saying and doing—a lot of business intelligence is available online.
Today, everyone has a portable device (i.e. smart phone, iPad, laptop). Do you think there should be polices in place regarding their use in the work place? What are the boundaries in making such policies?
Companies need to consider a number of issues about both company owned and employee owned devices.The number one issue is usually security of the company information. Mobile devices can be easily lost or stolen, and companies need to have procedures in place when that occurs. Employees want to use their own devices, and access personal information on company devices, or company information on personal devices. This creates more security issues for corporate networks. Companies can remotely wipe lost or stolen devices, but such wiping can affect the personal information on the device, as well. Companies need to think though each type of situation, and craft a policy that covers all the “What ifs."