Four Steps to Diminish Liability

By Kirstin Simonson  |  Posted 2009-12-08 Print this article Print

While it is probably unrealistic to completely ban social media use in the workplace, companies can take effective steps to manage the risk.

Although there is no absolute protection against lawsuits, companies that demonstrate their commitment to responsible use of social media are in a better position to battle claims than those that make no effort to rein in employees. The following four steps can be very effective:

1 Create an internal social media business-use policy. Companies should have written policies that cover all forms of electronic communications. These can include notifying employees that they are not allowed to use electronic communications—including blogging, texting and instant messaging—in ways that are contrary to the company’s interests, are illegal or violate antidiscrimination policies. The policy should also remind employees about protecting proprietary information and avoiding privacy violation issues. Finally, they should be told that their electronic communications may be intercepted, analyzed and archived by the company.

2 Communicate the policy to employees and train them to follow it. Technology fosters rapid response and widespread dissemination of communications. So employees should be trained not only to follow the company policy, but also to step back from—rather than contribute to—escalating situations.

3 Monitor workplace usage to ensure the policy is being followed. By periodically alerting employees that their activities are being monitored, a company can keep its work force focused on work-related matters.

4 Enforce the policy. Companies need to establish and communicate consequences for policy violations, and then follow through when issues arise.

The risks that companies face when their employees disparage others, release proprietary information or expose the company to community disapproval have always existed. What is different today is the speed and reach of the Internet, which turns what used to be minor gaffes into serious, headline-making scandals. By signaling to employees that their blogging, posting and tweeting are subject to common-sense rules, companies can manage these risks and reduce their exposure to liability.

Kirstin Simonson is the underwriting director for Travelers Global Technology.

Kirstin Simonson is the underwriting director for Travelers Global Technology.

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