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Social Media Policies

By: Ashley Jones, CPA , Senior Accountant

Many businesses, including not-for-profits, are taking advantage of social media to promote marketing and solicit donations. Social media has proven to be an effective new method for businesses to use. However, along with the benefits of this new tool, it also creates some additional concerns for companies, mainly from an employer’s perspective. To address these risks, many companies are implementing social media use policies.

A September 2012 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding Costco’s social media use policy may encourage other employers to look deeper into their existing policies and may also urge employers to seek some legal counsel when developing them.

The Costco policy on trial states that employees “be aware that statements posted electronically (such as to online message boards or discussion groups) that damage the company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation or violate the policies outlined in the Costco Employee Agreement, may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.”

The issue found with Costco’s policy is that it violates Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, and violates employee’s rights to free speech. Employees who protest, picket, and strike are protected under this act and are allowed to organize and join unions.

Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers filed the charges against Costco for violating the National Labor Relations Act two years ago. It was determined that Costco’s social media policy was too broad and suggests that any policy that disciplines employees for posting comments online that are not favorable to the company are too broad and should be revised.

To ensure that a social media policy is not in violation of the Act, make sure that is focuses on unlawful activity such as disclosure of confidential information, protected health information, sexual harassment, etc., and not just a broad prohibition on employee postings that may be negative to the employer.

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