A handful of local businesses attending a seminar on Thursday about the legal issues surrounding social media in the workplace were advised to create policies that address the use of social media by their employees .
The Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie Job Search Employer Committee, an organization that brings together public and private sector employers and the state’s Department of Labor, put on the event at the Rolling Hills Country Club as one of their biannual educational seminars for employers. The seminar dealt mainly with legal issues from the employer’s point of view, but also discussed issues related to employee use of social media.
Louis DiLorenzo, who practices labor and employment law at the New York City-based law firm Bond, Schoeneck and King, led the seminar, titled “Social Networking — Risks and Liabilities for Employers.”
DiLorenzo said the best thing an employer can do to avoid any legal problems regarding social networking is to have a work policy in place that details what is and is not allowed regarding social media.
He said the terms of the policy depend on the type of business and the business culture. A public relations firm might encourage their employees to work with social networking sites constantly as a way of branding and promoting their products, whereas a financial company may not allow their employees to use social networking sites at all.
Since the policy won’t be able to address everything, DiLorenzo also suggested some general “catch-all” language to protect the company from the unknown.
Three out of four Americans use social media; it is more popular than personal e-mail and is growing faster than the rate of all Internet activity.
DiLorenzo said 45 percent of employers use social media to recruit employees or screen potential hires as of June 2009, up from 22 percent a year before.
He advised supervisors and managers to not be “friends” or connected to the personal social networking pages of their employees. Employers open themselves up to liability when they know too much about an employee’s personal life, such as their religious beliefs or sexual orientation.
When hiring an employee, DiLorenzo said employers could do an Internet search on potential candidates, but decision-makers should let a nondecision-maker do the search and flag any information that violates company policy.
DiLorenzo concluded the seminar with examples of what he called “horror stories” for companies whose employees abused social media. He used the incident involving Domino’s Pizza where videos of employees doing gross things to customers’ food were released on YouTube.
“People continue to think that, somehow, this stuff is private, and continue to do this,” he said.
Kerry Brunner, a human resources manager at Walmart in Johnstown, and chairman of the FMS Job Search Employer Committee, said the seminar was “so relevant today.”
St. Mary’s Hospital, the largest employer in Montgomery County, is in the process of drafting a policy regarding social networking use in the workplace, according to human resource specialist Hannah Hansen.
Hansen said the hospital’s policies would already apply to an employee’s conduct on social networking sites.
Hospital spokeswoman Jacqueline Marciniak said it was interesting to learn about the fine line employers walk when dealing with social networking. For her, it can be a tool she uses to market and promote the company, but she also has to be careful what she says and how she represents herself as an employee.