Will social media employee ruling set precedent?

When it comes to social media and the workplace, we’re all aware that the possibility for thorny issues abounds, whether you’re on the employer or employee side of the equation. And if we’ve been watching industry news, we can all probably point to at least a few incidents where an employee or prospective hire’s Facebook party photos or off-the-cuff Twitter posts have led to disciplinary action, termination or never being considered for a job in the first place.

But where the legal aspects of employer social media behavior are concerned, it’s still largely uncharted waters. Sure, there have been a few high-profile lawsuits, but it’s tough to come up with a list of social media legal precedent that doesn’t include guidelines already established by common sense. That’s why it’s particularly interesting to see news of this lawsuit come up – a National Labor Relations Board ruling addressing whether a company can fire employees for posting critical comments on Facebook about co-worker job performance.

The verdict was no, but the really interesting thing about the decision is that the ruling wasn’t made on First Amendment free speech guidelines, which have in the past largely been the backbone of other employees’ social media suits. Instead, this decision invoked Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which states that worker dialogue is protected as long as it’s part of an effort to improve working conditions and wages. Furthermore, the NLRB also issued a report on 14 social media case investigations, giving HR professionals and social media experts new ingredients and guidance for building or revamping corporate social media policies.

If you’re an employer or involved in your company’s HR structure in some way – and this should include social media pros for any business with a serious social presence – it’s worth looking over the report and seeing if your own company’s social media policy may need an update. After all, with the status of social taking new directions every day, what may have seemed like an inclusive policy six months, a year or two years ago may need tweaking. Don’t have a policy? Feel free to borrow ours and use it as a boilerplate for building your own.

If the recent NLRB ruling – or any social media news of late – has encouraged you to amend your corporate policy (or change the way you as an employee interact on social), we’d love to hear about it. Let us know in the comments.