Monday, February 20, 2012

Can Companies Force Employees To Join Social Networks?

We see a lot of stories about employers banning employee use of social media at work. But can employers make employees join social networks?

The IT nerds over at Slashdot are debating it today, and it's a fascinating thread. From a company's perspective, making employees join social media networks seems great at first. Employees get the company's name out there, promote events, products and services, interact directly with customers in real time, and they can chat up their co-workers without ever having to leave their desks. It explains why workplace Twitter use was up 700% last year. Employees have essentially become lock-step marketing and branding armies for companies. How could this go wrong?

Well, employees could feel peer pressure to be more "social" to keep their jobs, which could be creating new and weird workplace morale problems on the down low for employees worried about maintaining privacy. On the other end of the spectrum, we all know people who use their work accounts to write TMI-laced messages, don't we? Mistakes can, and do, happen. Then there's the emerging issue of who owns the content -- a battle writers know all too well. The boss says you can't take your tweets with you. Or can you? Stay tuned.

Will the next frontier of 21st Century employment law be: Can my employer make me use social media? Somehow, this question doesn't seem that far fetched anymore.

For now, it sounds like setting up social media accounts can, and is, expected inside many companies as a way of looking hip, cool and communicative with the public. The NLRB recently released a set of updated social media guidelines for employers, and employees' best bet is to set up separate work-related accounts and them use them only for work-related things. Save your grocery store exploits (and worse...) for your private accounts where your friends roam free and they can't fire you. This way, you won't commit any unforced errors on the job.

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  3. You didn't answer the question AT ALL. NO, it is NOT Constitutional for employers to make participation in a social network a condition of employment or promotion. This is nebulous writing.

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