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Does your Employee Handbook address social media?

Prudent employers have known, for many years, the importance of Employee Handbooks in setting forth a company’s policies and operational procedures. However, the recent increase in the popularity of social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like – has taken many employers, and their Handbooks, by surprise.

Policies governing mobile phones, computers, Internet access and e-mail no longer suffice. With social media, every employee – for better or for worse, intentionally or unintentionally – can become a spokesperson for the company.

The following are some of the areas where Handbooks typically need updating to meet the social-media challenge:

  • Defining what social media are
  • Raising employees’ awareness that when they use social media, they may be representing the company, either explicitly or implicitly, to the entire world
  • Reminding employees that the company has the right and the obligation to manage its public image and its intellectual property
  • Providing examples of social-media activities that require management approval, and those that are prohibited
  • Recognizing that there are personal activities that an employer should not and will not restrict
  • Explaining when online promotional activities require that an employment relationship be disclosed (see Educate Employees about Online Endorsements – the FTC is Watching!)

Furthermore, as new social media policies are developed, they must integrate properly with a Handbook’s other policies (such as those pertaining to confidentiality, expectations of privacy, avoiding conflicts of interest, and discipline) and the employer’s Proprietary information and Inventions Agreement.

If your Employee Handbook does not yet address social media, the time to act is now, before your employees’ activities get too far out of hand.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law  +1 510-547-0545  dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

  1. 10/21/2009 | 12:58 pm Permalink

    Great post, Dana. This also touches on another grey area: for companies that need to archive their email, what do you do about social networks? Services exist today for archiving email and IM, but I wonder if they also archive Twitter, Facebook, and others? So all the points you made apply, but possibly others that are even more severe. For example, financial advisors have to archive all email and IM – if they don’t they can run afoul of industry regulations and federal and state laws. -walt

  2. 10/21/2009 | 1:59 pm Permalink

    @Walter Feigenson
    Walt –
    You raise interesting points. It’s difficult to imagine that FB, TW, etc. make it easy, if at all possible, to extract and save copies of all of the (business) posts of all of a company’s employees.
    Interestingly, under Rules of Professional Conduct 1-400(F) (, attorneys are required to keep copies of their advertising communications for two years. Relatively easy for my website and blog, but potentially a lot more difficult for all of the communications that I have made elsewhere.

  3. 10/21/2009 | 7:58 pm Permalink

    This is a great challenge to law firms (often in the AmLaw 200) that don’t trust their own lawyers to publish anything without administrative vetting (as if they can’t get the firm into more trouble by actually PRACTICING LAW (drafting contracts; filing pleadings; and, the like for which no administrative vetting would be THINKABLE!). Yet I was on a social media panel for legal marketing professionals recently where I heard these two shocking stories: (1) a firm that wanted to launch a twitter campaign so long as the “firm” vetted each tweet — hilarious really; and, (2) a firm considering hiring a writer to “ghost” a group blog to be “written” by two or three of the firm’s lawyers. Really! Would these firms send their administrative staffs to their attorneys’ speaking events; their bar association meetings; their networking events, etc. to protect “the firm” against really stupid things the lawyers might say. I know, I know, what lawyers say networking isn’t written down on the internet for eternity (or until the sun turns into a red giant, whichever comes first). But similarly “permanent” are court filings; email; written correspondence; contracts; etc. If firms don’t trust their lawyers to reflect well on the firm online, how can they trust them to reflect well on the firm doing what they do for a living?

  4. 10/28/2009 | 7:12 pm Permalink

    The archiving issue came up at a talk I gave today for government agencies using social media tools. There’s a major issue here, and also a great business opportunity for archiving technology experts.

  5. 12/16/2009 | 6:53 am Permalink

    Dana, I run a new company that provides social media strategy and solutions to the senior living and long-term care world. Executives in these industries are very concerned about getting into social media due to fears about violating privacy and HIPAA. They also fear, as many companies do, that people will say bad things about them and they won’t be able to control the message. I’m wondering if you or any of your colleagues have any thoughts about how companies in this space can develop policies and guidelines related to social media that address privacy and HIPAA issues. Thanks. Great post.

    Brian Geyser, APRN-BC, MSN

    • 12/20/2009 | 11:04 am Permalink

      Brian –

      I have not had any experience with the issues that you raised. Perhaps someone else can provide some helpful comments.


  6. 12/29/2009 | 12:57 pm Permalink

    Brian, my company is working with another company that had similar concerns regarding privacy and HIPPA regulations. Establishing a terms of service for the social media site that covers issues that would conflict with HIPPA (and COPPA) is key, the employees and any outside contractors need to understand HIPPA laws as well as the users. Moderation, pre-screening, post-screening content, and quality assurance are some of the tools that are most effective. It is also helpful if your platform developer is aware of HIPPA, COPPA and other privacy laws so that user protection is built into the system. It get’s trickier on places like Facebook and Twitter, where you do not have that level of control over the application.

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