Posted 06-20-2012

Remember Friendster? That was one of the very first social media websites, established a long, long, long time ago. Way back in 2002.

Ten years later, most of us and our employees use social media all the time, both at work and off-hours. In the morning, you check your friends’ Facebook walls for updates, and in the afternoon, after adding a comment to your company’s blog, you add some experience to your Linked In profile. You post your niece’s graduation pictures on Flickr, follow the Twitter feed of your favorite actor, and affix your favorite restaurant’s menu to your Pinterest pinboard.

Not so long ago, going to work meant showing up every day at the office, where you collaborated with your boss and colleagues. However, an increasing number of employees work not at headquarters but from home, the field, or the road, so more and more organizations are using social media tools including wikis and blogs to help workers contribute to projects, share their knowledge and perspectives, and build relationships.

Nearly one in four workers has the boss as a Facebook friend, says a 2012 survey. According to published reports, nearly one-half of all employers are now using social media to screen hiring candidates, primarily through LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Companies, large and small, have found that corporate social media pages can help them reach and interact with millions of customers for free.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has kept up with electronic developments, and applies its traditional analytical models to contemporary workplace phenomena. Since the 1930s, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) has protected the rights of workers to communicate with each other about wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, in both union and non-union companies. Starting in the 1990s, the NLRB has held that e-mail communications between workers can be protected “concerted activity” under the NLRA, and in the past 18 months, the Board has turned its attention to social media in the workplace.

In May, 2012, the NLRB’s General Counsel’s Office published a report on social media, examining and criticizing a number of corporate policies on the subject. One policy was found to be beyond criticism, and the NLRB reprinted it as a guide for employers.

What this means to you:

If you haven’t reviewed your electronic communications policies in a while, now would be an excellent time to do so. Make sure that they are not overly broad and do not chill employees’ rights.

Once you have reviewed and revised your policies, roll them out to your workforce, along with training on the proper use of the Internet, email, and social media at work.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.