Many businesses, especially relatively small ones, use social media as an avenue for free and widespread advertising and exposure. Information on social media sites can potentially extend to millions of people, therefore smaller businesses have the opportunity to advertise alongside large corporations for very little or no cost. The opportunities presented by social media and the internet should not be passed up, however businesses need to be aware of the legal risks and implications that may accompany the use of social media in the workplace. The following are some legal issues that arise out of social media use by a business.
Business owners often enlist the help of one or more employees to implement social media campaigns and manage the company’s social media presence. However, even qualified and responsible employees may accidentally post something that may incite a lawsuit for defamation, copyright infringement, invasion of privacy, among other reasons. Employees without legal knowledge may not realize the wrongfulness of their actions. However, whether the post was unintentional or whether or not the employee had permissions for the post may not shield a business from liability if the employee was carrying out a work-related task. Businesses should therefore have clear policies and guidelines for any posts by employees published on behalf of the company.
If you are an employee who posts on behalf of your employer, you may gain a popular and/or regular following for blogs, Facebook, or Twitter posts. If you decide to leave the company, you may wish to take your online followers and content that you have created with you. Many companies will not allow you to do this for fear of losing customers. Therefore, many employees in this situation find themselves in a legal ownership battle with their former employers. If you are charged with creating original and popular content for social media or other websites, make sure you know your employer’s policy on ownership before you hand over any valuable material.
If your company or any employees become involved in a lawsuit, online content may be admissible against you under the category of electronic business records. Such online content may include blog articles, emails, status updates, video posts, instant messages, Tweets, etc. Furthermore, if you are an employee or former employee bringing legal action against your employer, that employer may be penalized by the court for improper record retention if they delete any relevant online content.
These are only a few of the legal risks that come with social media usage for both employers and employees. If a company allows employees to post on social media on its behalf, the best policy to is thoroughly train the employee on social media procedures and limitations. If you are an employee who regularly manages your employer’s social media presence, it is always a good idea to have a very clear understanding of the company’s policies in order to avoid future conflict. Most importantly, if you are involved in a dispute with your employer that you may escalate to legal action, always call an experienced employment attorney at Pershing Square Law Firm for help.