Employee Speech – Your Social Media Problem or Their’s?

social media privacy image

Yes, they are talking about your company. Get over it!

Employee grievances on social media are a very thorny area to address.  The risks in mis-stepping are huge.  You can either look so heavy handed that you risk losing customers when you over-react.  You could also face action by the National Labor Relations Board  (NLRB) for chilling your employees rights.  By the way these two outcomes are not exclusive and can double whammy you.  What are you to do?  Whatever are you to do?


I feel like I bring this up so often that I should change the name of this blog to “policy bashing central.”  It just seems to me that people are getting so wound up around the flagpole with employee conduct in social media.  An article a few days ago in the NY Post asks if it is “OK to air work grievances on social media?”  The short answer is yes.  The longer answer is mostly yes.

There are some definite pitfalls to work through as an employee.  While your termination may be the wrong thing, where are you at?  You are still without that job.  You may have an actionable claim, but you are still without that job.

What should you do as an employee?

Do I think you should be fired for posting your paycheck on instagram?  Absolutely not.  If you are an employee, I suggest adding something to your postings to cement your rights.  Since a paycheck is the most hallowed of working conditions, it is very much a protected bit of speech.  The only bone of contention is whether it is concerted or not.  Simple way to do that, ask a question that might spur debate among co-workers.  “I wonder what everyone else thinks about our payscale.”

Folks, your employers should be engaging you more than they are.  They are afraid of you, however.  The policies you follow are negative in nature.  Should they be?  Yes.  You as an employee represent a large risk to them.  However, I also believe that you represent the greatest asset.  By engaging with you authentically and empowering you, your employer gets a great benefit, not only in work productivity, but in social engagement as well.

Ask for guidance

My biggest suggestion to employers regarding employee social media speech is to provide guidance, not policies.  Guidance means meaningful and positive examples.  If you aren’t getting this, ask for it.  If you have to deal with policies, you are already going to do what I fear.  The majority of employees will conclude that there is nothing they can say that won’t get them in trouble.  The policy will chill your speech.

Go underground

Do you feel the burning desire to say stuff about your workplace?  Your boss?  Your pay?  The person at the corner of the cubicle farm that chews too loudly?  Do it anonymously.  You could go so far as to mask who you work for.  People may not gravitate to your thoughts, but you got it off your chest, right.  Generally most of us just want the outlet.  Back in the early days of email people were told to right their heated reply to an annoying email and then either wait an hour or just delete it.  The act of writing your angry thoughts is cathartic.

If you are really looking to garner support, you will probably need to do it out in the open.  While I suggest adding the “what do you all think” as a method to protect your cathartic posts as well, I think it is an after action justification and may come under attack.  If your post is really meant to ask for other worker’s comments, it is very much protected.  Even better if you are in a forum where other employees are.

Finally – Message to Employers

Your employees want to talk.  They have always talked.  From the first employee thousands of years ago who went home and told their family how hard their day was, they need to talk.

Social media has made this speech so effortless and so scalable that you are now seeing the true inner thoughts of your employees.  If people react poorly to an employee’s post about their payscale, perhaps its your payscale that is at fault, not the employee.  If people react poorly to the fact that you regulate when your employees can go to the bathroom, again, it may be your fault.

As to your policies, here are a few of my many posts on why you should ditch it.  I have what I think are very good reasons for ditching it, not the least of which is it takes away the urge to apply a policy that will inevitable be found to be unlawful at least in part.  Enjoy.

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