Written by attorney Jacob Iraj Kiani | Jul 6, 2013

Top Five Social Media / Internet Use Policies for a CA Employee Handbook

The proliferation of technology use and communication through the use of social media has resulted in an overabundance of distractions for your small business' employees. The growth of these new forms of media and communication have also raised a number of interesting work place privacy legal issues as well. These technologies and the growth of online communication have threatened to significantly decrease the productivity of your work force.

You don't want your employees posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and their personal blog when they should be working, do you? Due to all of these new issues and considerations raised by the growth of technology in virtually every aspect of our daily lives, every small business in this day and age would be well advised to implement policies (usually contained in an Employee Handbook) on the use of this technology and social media in the workplace. In this blog article, we suggest the top five social media and internet use policies:

  1. The Use of Company Provided Technology: A great starting policy pertaining to technology to put in your small business' Employee Handbook is that Company-provided voice mail, e-mail, and computers are to be used for business purposes only, and may not be used for personal business. Employees should be placed on notice that they should have no expectation of privacy in their data or voice mail files in order to permit the employer to review these files when necessary.

Your Employee Handbook should address the issue of employee privacy and put your employees on notice that when they use Company Provided Technology, they should not expect those communications to remain private. For example, you could put the following language in your Employee Handbook on the issue of privacy: "Employees should have no anticipation of privacy with respect to Company-provided voice mail, e-mail, text-messages, instant messages, or any other computer or electronically based communications – regardless of whether such information is stored on the Company's systems or by an outside provider."

  1. Internet Use Policy: Your Employee Handbook should warn your employees that you may monitor their use of the Internet at work. It should also state that employees should not visit inappropriate or other offensive websites while using the Internet on the job. A good Internet Use Policy will require that employees not use Company-provided internet access for illegal activities such as to commit fraud or to otherwise infringe on the legitimate copyrights or other protected intellectual property rights of others. For example, for those of you who remember Napster, a free online music-sharing program, that was shut down for rampant copyright infringement, you don't want your employees using that kind of piracy software at your place of business, thereby possibly exposing you and your company to legal liability for copyright infringement.

  2. Anti-Blogging Policy: Like we said, you don't want your employees wasting your valuable time and money by posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or by blogging when they should be working. Moreover, you also want to make sure that your employees do not post information on these websites that will put the confidentiality of your business' trade secrets and/or other protected proprietary information at risk. You worked hard to develop the trade secrets, client lists, and other confidential business assets, which comprise much of the value of your small business. Make sure your employees know (as if it weren't obvious) that you don't want them posting that kind of sensitive information on their Twitter account. We suggest including language similar to the following in your Employee Handbook:

"Employees are prohibited from engaging in web logging or "blogging" during work hours or while using Company-provided equipment, technology, smartphone, tablet device, or any other technology provided to the employee for use during the employee's employment. Employees "blogging" (including but not limited to use of Myspace, Facebook, Blogspot, Friendster, Linked In, Instagram, Blogger, Tumblr, or any other blog or website of any kind whatsoever) while not on working time and while not using Company equipment should be aware that they must adhere to the Company's confidentiality policy and that they must avoid the disclosure of trade secrets or other information regarding the Company of any kind whatsoever. When you post something on the internet even after work hours, assume that everyone you know including the Company, its management, and your colleagues at work will view it. Use common sense and your professional judgment."

  1. Remote Electronic Usage: It's fine for your exempt, salaried employees to be using their blackberries, iPhones, and laptops to work from home, but you really don't want your non-exempt, hourly employees to do so, only to later claim that you failed to pay them overtime for this time they spent working off the clock. Implement a policy similar to the following to make it clear to those hourly employees that you do not want them to be working from home on their smartphone:

"Non-exempt employees are not permitted to check their email or perform any work outside of the workplace. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Accessing your email through any device (Blackberries, IPhones, or any other SmartPhone);
  • Logging onto the Company's computers through remote computing access or any other cloud computing or remote services (including SaaS, Webmail, Outlook, GotoMeeting, or any other similar Company provided service);
  • Checking voice mails; or
  • Texting others for work purposes."
  1. Policy Against Texting and/or Emailing While Driving: Many small business in California have employees that spend some or most of their work day driving around in company-provided vehicles. Do you want your delivery guy blasting techno music, weaving in and out of Los Angeles traffic, while texting on his cell phone with one hand and posting to his Facebook account on his Ipad with the other hand? We didn't think so. To prevent this type of dangerous activity and to keep your employees safe while protecting your business from exposure to liability, implement a policy stating that employees that drive as part of their daily job activities, such as salesman, for example, should refrain from texting or emailing while driving in Company-provided vehicles. An example of such a policy for your Employee Handbook is as follows:

"Regardless of the circumstances, employees whose job responsibilities include regular or occasional driving may not use, send or read or review text messages or e-mails while driving. Employees who are charged with traffic violations resulting from texting or e-mailing while driving will be solely responsible for all liabilities that result from such actions. Violations of this policy will result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment."

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