While nearly every organization has a social media policy today, most social media policies ignore the greatest business risk to their organization from social media: managers. The simple reality is that landmark law suits or sanction brought against employers in the past couple of years have resulted from the actions of a manager, not an employee. For example:
- Earlier this year, the NLRB settled a case with American Medical Response, which the NLRB brought after the company fired an employee for disparaging remarks made in the employee’s personal social media account.
- In March 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that companies do not have the right to access employee’s attorney-client email communications if accessed on a personal, password-protected e-mail account using the company’s computer system, even if accessed on a company computer. The ruling occurred after the company pulled the web-based emails from internal company storage, and tried to use them in a lawsuit that the employee brought against the employer.
- Those same boundaries apply to personal social media.
- In October 2009, the federal district court in New Jersey upheld a jury decision to hold Hillstone Restaurant Group liable for violations of the Stored Communications Act and New Jersey’s parallel electronic surveillance statute after managers of the restaurant fired two employees due to content the Managers found in a private MySpace group created by the employees.
In each of the above cases, managers broke the law and exposed their employer to significant costs and damage to their brands, in addition to personal prosecution, in some cases.
Too many executives and employers hold false assumptions about their powers over their employees, and every employer should proactively educate their managers about their boundaries as managers. Social media training should be part of basic Manager training, just like sexual harassment, bribery or discrimination content.
While I am not aware of any jurisdictions requiring such training for managers, it is clearly in the interest of any employer to take the lead and educate their managers.
All employers should actively educate their managers about the boundaries.