Lisa Gallivan & Alison Strachan
Lisa Gallivan & Alison Strachan, Stewart McKelvey

Like it or not, social networking is here to stay and there are challenges in regulating and monitoring social media sites in the workplace. The challenges involved in regulating and monitoring social networking in the workplace – including auditing and updating policies – inevitably increase with new sites and technology.  In a recent global Proskauer survey “Social Media In the Workplace” the authors noted that:

  • Social media policies are now found in 80% of organizations (up from 60%);
  • 36% of employers actively block access to such sites (compared to 29% in 2012); and
  • 43% of employers permit their employees to access social media sites (a fall of 10%).

Social media mistakes continue to be headline grabbers and we don’t need to remind you about Twitter frenzies that go viral when employees are fired, YouTube videos featuring disgruntled employees that circle the universe in a few hours, or inappropriate comments about co-workers posted on unprotected Facebook accounts. The possibilities, as they say, are endless.

Employers should be aware that social media issues are new variations of old workplace themes (i.e., defamation, violation of confidentiality, workplace bullying, harassment, non-competition and non-solicitation) but with a global twist. If you haven’t done so already, you should revisit existing policies to ensure that misuse is addressed accordingly and updated to include social media misuse.

The power of social networking cannot be overlooked as some recent statistics say:

  • There are 1.4 Billion Facebook users worldwide
  • 11% of people on earth use Facebook
  • The total amount of minutes people spend on Facebook every month is 700 Billion
  • The average amount of time a person uses Facebook per month is 15 hours and 33 minutes
  • The total amount of people who access Facebook with a phone is 250 Million
  • The total pieces of content shared on Facebook each month is 70 Billion
  • The total amount of YouTube page views per month is 92 Billion
  • The average amount of pictures hosted by Flickr is 5 Billion
  • The average number of tweets per day is 190 Million
  • 24% of Americans are not confident in their ability to use privacy settings

What should an employer do?

Develop a policy if you don’t already have one. Consider what limits you need for employees who engage in social networking both at work and at home. Such a policy should, at a minimum, address the consequences for disclosure of company secrets, defamation, workplace gossip, posting racially or sexually offensive materials, disparaging co-workers, vendors and customers. Potential problems should also be explained. The employer’s right to monitor its equipment should be emphasized and, as with all policies, always describe the consequences for breaching the policy. Technology continues to evolve – employers must keep up to date with new developments as they emerge and routinely audit policies to ensure that they continue to be relevant and protect your interests.

Finally – communication, education and enforcement of policies is critical to their success.

Lisa Gallivan and Alison Strachan are the editors of, and regular contributors to, Stewart McKelvey’s HRLaw blog.  HRLaw regularly blogs current human resource issues and case law commentary.  In addition, Stewart McKelvey has a vibrant twitter presence @SM_EmployerLaw where Lisa and Alison tweet daily under the hashtag #HRpick on human resource issues.  Lisa is a skilled presenter, trainer and facilitator providing on-site training for employees and executives on all workplace matters including facilitation of executive meetings and retreats, policy development and strategic business planning.