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It might be time to update that workplace social media policy

One recent TikTok “day in the life” video showed someone complaining about their co-workers, supervisors, customers, etc. while at the office. Watching it revealed the potential legal exposure it unintentionally created. With that, here are four tips for managing use of TikTok (or any video/photo-based social media) in the workplace:

Ensure policies reflect recent trends

In the early days of widespread social media use, employers’ policies may have simply prohibited employees from using company equipment to post nonwork-related content online and required work posts to be business appropriate. But social media use is rapidly evolving in new ways that may not have been anticipated when those policies were drafted.

What should employers know about current trends as they consider policy changes? For one thing, TikTok has quickly grown in popularity over the past two years, with more than a billion monthly active users. That means some workers are likely using the platform and doing so during work hours. The app allows users to upload videos ranging from five seconds to 10 minutes. TikTok then filters videos through their feed using an algorithm and shares them with other users. These videos may receive millions of views, comments, likes, and shares. This becomes problematic when workers value the transparency, but do not consider that their candid photos may also reveal confidential company information.

Strike a balance

Before deciding to curb all posts on TikTok (or similar apps like BeReal) from the workplace, recognize that such posts can pay dividends. Employees who are active on social media may be more equipped to understand the social pulse of the company’s customer base. Additionally, allowing employees to contribute to company-sponsored social media posts shows that the company trusts them, which can increase their confidence and make them feel valued.

Furthermore, social media networking may help employees collaborate, share ideas, and solve problems. This can lead to better employee engagement and retention. Moreover, use of social media in the workplace can make the company more desirable to potential applicants, particularly millennials and Gen Z’ers.

Social media is here to stay, and employers should recognize that policies barring all forms of social media use in the workplace may be unrealistic. In fact, about 72 percent of respondents to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey said they use some form of social media and 77 percent of respondents to an earlier survey reported using social media regardless of whether their employer had a policy in place.

While not every company can allow on-the-job posts, those with flexibility might want to dedicate resources to creating a mutually beneficial, collaborative policy around social media use in the workplace. For example, allowing employees to share their experiences with their company through social media may promote transparency and provide job seekers with credible information on what it’s really like to work for the business.

Address the potential pitfalls

While employers may benefit from employees’ on-the-job social media posts, they should also address the potential dangers, including legal and business concerns.

Of the many legal concerns, the most glaring are privacy protections and confidentiality issues on the job site and remotely. For example, an employee may take a video of their innovative at-home work space while a Zoom meeting is in progress or while their computer screen displays proprietary information.

Be cognizant of how allowing employees to post on the job can potentially harm an organization’s reputation. The new social media apps attract users who want to be authentic rather than staged, heavily filtered, or otherwise unauthentic. Thus, employees who choose to post on these platforms do not shy away from capturing the “realness” of their job. This, in turn, can lead to an employee sharing information that negatively affects the company, such as human resources concerns (including allegations of unprofessional comments made by colleagues), complaints about working conditions, and products liability issues. All these discussions raise both reputational and legal concerns that should be considered.

Set realistic parameters

With these benefits, risks and (pop) cultural considerations in mind, what should a modern social media policy include?

If a solid employee handbook exists, a good place to start is by reminding employees that existing policies still apply when social media platforms are used. For example, an equal employment and harassment-prevention policy would cover discriminatory or bullying behavior toward colleagues whether online or in person. Also remind employees who they should contact when they have a workplace concern. Additionally, let employees know that confidentiality policies apply when they share content, so their computer screens and documents should not be visible in the background.

Depending on the nature of a business and its employees’ roles, an employer may want to create a more targeted policy on social media use. For instance, there may be different risks to manage if employees are encouraged to engage with the brand, workers are young, or the business has a strong social media presence.

The policy should be in writing and followed consistently. Where to go from there is more complicated and requires input from counsel on best practices.

Stephen Scott is a partner in the Portland, Oregon office of Fisher Phillips.

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