People are fired for what they say on social media all the time. One of the more shocking news stories recently is this one about a Florida middle school teacher who allegedly had an online alias that espoused white supremacist and racist ideas. Since being uncovered, the school has put the teacher on administrative leave while they investigate, and the teacher (through her lawyer) has said her accounts were “satire.”
One look at her tweets or snippets of her podcast, however, will tell any casual observer that it’s likely impossible to tell that this is satire, and that even if it is, there are many people who would be deeply offended by her comments regardless of their intention.
For all organizations—be they schools, nonprofits, or businesses—having a potential employee like this is a powder keg waiting to explode. And once it does, it’s nearly impossible and extremely costly for organizations to win back any lost reputation, good will, and revenue it may have lost as a result. And the internet is an unforgiving place. In particularly extreme cases, it can only take a few minutes for a negative meme to go viral, and for people to organize boycotts, repost negative comments, and share negative stories before an organization even knows it’s happened.
There are legal ramifications, too; depending on the nature and level of the offense and organizations may even be facing negligent hiring lawsuits, especially if they had the power to identify potentially problem employees during the hiring process.
The best way to mitigate a negative situation like the one facing this Florida school is to have a solid social media policy in place. Today, social media is embedded into nearly every aspect of our lives. We use social networks for work, for play, to share pictures and experiences, and to meet new people. It would be impossible for an organization to stop its employees from using social media, but it can ensure that they understand what is expected of them and what can be considered offenses that endanger their employment.
Putting together a social media policy should not be taken lightly. Here are some tips for creating one that will protect your organization, while also ensuring your employees don’t feel like you’re policing them.
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Too often, weak social media policies fail to define what constitutes social media posts, what types of behaviors are acceptable and what types aren’t. The more explicit you can be about what is allowed and what isn’t, the harder it will be for potential difficult employees to question the policies or find loopholes.
Outline consequences for infractions
It should be crystal clear to employees what will happen if they cross any lines. In many cases, you may need to conduct an investigation prior to taking action, and that process should be part of what the policy explains, as well as any consequences (including termination) for not following the company’s policies.
Discuss External Regulations
This is particularly important for those who work in healthcare, finance, legal, and other similar industries. If your organization needs to comply with external regulations in the offline world, then you definitely need to comply online as well. Be sure to make sure your policy includes all pertinent regulations and makes it clear what constitutes violations of those regulations. That includes any statements or information related to federally or state protected classes related to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and others.
Have your lawyers review it
There are important legal ramifications about what employees can and can’t say in the workplace and even online (which could be considered outside of work). Likewise, there are legal ramifications of what an employer can do to discipline employees who defy company policies. Having a labor lawyer review your policy will help ensure that disciplinary actions your organization may need to take are in line with labor laws.
Of course, the best way to deal with a potentially risky employee’s online behavior is to identify it before the person is hired. Contact us to learn how Social Intelligence empowers your organization to make more informed hiring decisions.
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About the author
Ben is the Marketing Manager for Social Intelligence.