Small Business

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Intellectual Property

 February 17, 2022

Lawyers Warn Employees: Take Caution on Social Media

Female employee looking at social media on her smartphone

The impact of social media

Newsflash: We live in an increasingly online world. Nowadays, we can communicate, get things done, take photos and videos, entertain ourselves, and do business all within the palm of our hands. When a thought or opinion comes to mind that we want to share, we can publicize it almost instantly with one click: “Post to Feed.”

And while this is a remarkable thing, social media can also be dangerous – detrimental even.

Both employers and employees utilize social networks to connect and chat about their personal lives and work, and lawyers have seen a rise in legal cases stemming from this phenomenon.

The question these days has become: when it comes to talking about work and companies, how far is too far? What speech is protected? Could certain comments made online ignite a legal fire for your business?

How do you avoid that?

Lawyers are warning to take caution when chatting online. Let’s break it down.

What speech is protected online?

Americans love our freedom of speech, and employees have a big misconception that they can post whatever they want and be protected by the First Amendment. False. Your freedom of speech rights are not as strong in the workplace.

In fact, only certain cases are protected under the First Amendment and National Labor Relations Act. For example, talking about your religion, speaking on issues of public concern, and other specific instances.

The online setting is a different playground. You have the right to post about your wages, working conditions and hours online.

However, you are not protected under federal law when making threats, racial epithets or other hate speech, harassment, or disclosing trade secrets/confidential information about a company. Employers have the right to investigate your social media to ensure their private info stays private.

In other cases, ugly legal issues can arise when an employee makes defamatory statements online about their employer; or a competitor if it appears they’re making the statement on behalf of the company.

For example, all too often, employees (or ex-employees) post fake reviews on sites like Google or Glassdoor about the company, and it can backfire.

While each case varies, the point is that there are a million things that can go wrong online, and there are legal consequences that can cost you. Even if the situation doesn’t impact you legally, it can damage your reputation.

The importance of boundaries

Lawyers suggest having a company social media policy in place breaking down what employees can and can’t discuss publicly online to avoid employees sharing confidential information or trade secrets.

However, lawyers say to proceed with caution and make rules specific to legal reasons. Disputes can arise when an employer is too aggressive in limiting what employees can and can’t say about them.

The rise in trials

Gone are the days when defamation only exists in magazines and newspapers. Legal cases involving defamatory statements made via social media are trending upwards over the past several years.

Lawyers caution both employees and employers to understand that social media problems can develop into legal issues, and it’s critical to know your rights.

Talk to a lawyer about your social media rights

Social media is only growing to be more and more normalized in all generations, and it’s critical to understand your rights before exploring it. Every time you post, you need to consider the consequences of making your thoughts public, because that content never really goes away.

To understand the ins and outs of your social media rights, talk to an experienced lawyer.

Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. (“PPLSI”) provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to PPLSI members through membership-based participation. Neither PPLSI nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation, or advice. The information available in this blog is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations. The blog post is not a substitute for competent legal counsel from a licensed professional lawyer in the state or province where your legal issues exist and the reader is strongly encouraged to seek legal counsel for your specific legal matter. Information contained in the blog may be provided by authors who could be a third-party paid contributor. All information by authors is accepted in good faith, however, PPLSI makes no representation or warranty of any kind, express or implied, regarding the accuracy, adequacy, validity, reliability, availability, or completeness of such information.

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