Has this ever happened to you? You Google your company by name and right on the first page of results, there is a negative blog posting about your company authored by one of your employees. Or you find some inappropriate information about your company shared by one of your employees on Twitter or Facebook. Yikes, do you have any recourse?
Employment law attorney Keisha-Ann G. Gray has an excellent column in Human Resource Executive that tackles the issue of options available to employers when employees criticize the company online via a blog or other social networking site. While an employer’s first inclination might be to react punitively, Gray advises employers to look before they leap because there are a number of state and federal laws that might protect the employee from any adverse action depending on where, when, and how the comments were made.
To prevent problems from occurring, Gray suggests that conscientious employers should have a social networking policy in place, and that such a policy may also serve as a defense against any potential wrongful discharge claims should action be taken against employees who violate the policy:
“Employers should take preventative steps by devising comprehensive, legally compliant policies that place employees on notice of what work-related matters are inappropriate to blog about (no trade secrets, defamatory/harassing comments regarding co-workers, etc.), and that blogging should not be done through company property or on company time.”
She presents a list of guidelines for what should be covered and she also includes a helpful sample social-networking/blogging policy.
In addition to establishing an employee policy, there are other steps employers can take to protect their online reputation.
**Sign up for Google alerts to find out what’s being said about you online. There are a variety of other reputation management monitoring tools that you can use to keep up on what’s being said about your company online.
**Maintain a positive online presence for your company. Consider a blog and establishing a presence on popular social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. Update sites frequently with positive information about what your company is doing. (Here’s a great example of an organization that has an employee-written blog: The Ambassablog).
**Keep internal lines of communication open. Ensure that you have a way for complaints to be heard and grievances addressed. Encourage managers and supervisors to take internal complaints seriously.
**Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are a plethora of anonymous complaint boards and forums that allow the public to weigh in anonymously on various industry sectors and businesses. Focus on issuing your own positive, open communications rather than chasing around to put out small fires on low-traction blogs and forums. But for a serious breach by employees, act swiftly and get advice from your legal team. Case in point – this recent damage control tale from Domino’s Pizza.