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An Overview of Social Media Legal Issues

Social media is all the rage. Many employees spend significant amounts of time on Facebook, Twitter, and their smart phones. And the role played by these technologies in the workplace is only growing. Michigan businesses ignore these issues at their peril.

Some employers have responded to this onslaught by limiting their employees’ access to social networking sites, with the intent and hope of increasing workplace productivity. But, even if employers limit employees’ activities on work computers, they still have access to these sites through their smart phones. Plus, employee activity on social media outside of work can have a significant impact on their employer’s operations and reputation.

Other employers have demanded that employees and potential employees turn over their social media or email passwords so the employer can review or monitor their accounts to see if the employee or potential employee is producing objectionable content or engaging in behavior not favored by the employer.

Although these kinds of demands may be well-intentioned, they are fraught with legal implications and could expose an employer to many legal risks under existing civil rights laws. In addition, legislation has been introduced in Congress and a number of state legislatures (including Michigan) to make such conduct illegal.

To make matters even more difficult for employers, cases have been successfully pursued against employers who have disciplined employees for making negative comments about their fellow workers, bosses, or companies on their social media accounts. These cases include Hispanics United of Buffalo v. Ortiz, Triple Play Sports Bar, and Costco Wholesale Corp.

As a result of these legal developments, it is possible that many of the social media policies that have been developed and implemented by employers are illegal and expose those companies to serious potential legal liability.

Social media presents a number of potential pitfalls and landmines for both employers and employees. Employers must make sure they have up-to-date social media policies and provide proper training to their managers and employees. The best way to take care of these issues is to have an experienced social media attorney assist you with with addressing social media legal issues.

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