Social media has permeated all aspects of life, including the workplace. It is quite useful for sharing ideas and resources, which can be good as businesses leverage the power of social media to connect with their target market and interact with customers. It can also be bad, when employees waste company time on them or, worse, post damaging comments or sensitive company information. Both businesses and their employees need to recognize both the value and the limitations of social media in the workplace.

Workplace Social Media Use from a Company Perspective

As traffic to social media sites continues to increase companies have increasingly been disciplining or even firing employees for using these sites on company time. Many companies limit or block access to social networks. Companies with restrictive policies may want to reconsider, at least to a degree. Employers can't regulate everything an employee does online, but existing laws can be used to cover certain Internet activities. A written policy covering Internet usage in general and including a section on social media can help clarify the appropriate use of social media at work or when posting about work. Businesses are within their rights to: - Limit how employees use company time and equipment - Prohibit revealing of confidential information in any setting, including the Internet - Require that employees posting about the company include a disclaimer that their opinions may not reflect those of the company - Discipline an employee for making slanderous comments about the company or any other employees - Discipline an employee for harassing another employee, including in online comments

Essentially, an employer should make it clear that the same policies that apply at work and in the offline world also apply to any online activities that mention or impact the company or its employees. An employer cannot: - Discipline or fire an employee for views held or expressed or activities pursued on their own time, as long as it does not defame or otherwise harm the company - Retaliate against whistle-blowers (or whistle-bloggers, as those who raise concerns via a blog are called) or any other employees who claim their rights were violated, via Internet postings or otherwise

Companies can keep an eye on what employees may be saying by creating alerts for their company name and the names of key personnel. In addition, a new Software as a Service offering from Teneros, called Social Sentry, can monitor employees' social networking accounts. However, employers need to be careful that they don't use information they might learn, like sexual orientation or political affiliation, to discriminate against an employee.

Workplace Social Media Use form an Employee Perspective

Employees need to recognize that free speech does have limitations and companies do have the legal right to limit their activities on company time and equipment, as well as what they say about their employers. The best way to avoid getting in trouble for your personal social media activities at work is to stop and use common sense before you log on. - Post only on your own time, after work, during lunch or on sanctioned breaks - Post from your phone, not your employer's computer

Before you post anything, consider the following: - Libel is illegal, so avoid making false and malicious statements, no matter how angry you are - Make it clear that any statements you make about your employer or its products are your personal opinion - Make sure you are not spilling company secrets

Social media is a growing force, and eventually, laws may be amended or new laws enacted to regulate the employer/employee relationship online. In the meantime, employers and employees will need to learn how to navigate this world peacefully within existing laws.