When employment lawyers look back at 2011, one item of note will be the tangible increase in cases and discussion regarding the interaction of social media and the employment arena.
In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) oversaw a number of situations in which it claimed that employees had used social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter to engage in "protected, concerted activity" regarding their employment. The NLRB claimed that employee use of social media to complain about their supervisor, employer or working conditions was protected by law. While the NLRB's position on this issue is debatable, it raised employer awareness of workplace social media concerns.
In addition, workplace use of social media raises other potentially significant issues for employers. Among them are concerns that social media can be a tool for unlawful harassment, disclosure of corporate confidential information, damage to the company's reputation and commission of torts such as defamation.
The most important strategy for employers to address these concerns is the creation of a social media policy. Such policies set a company's social media "culture" within the confines of the law. Because social media use is so varied among companies, social media policies tend to be highly customized. Despite this variation, a well-written and well-conceived social media policy goes a long way toward aiding employers in avoiding social media hurdles.