Article Date: 4/1/2011

The Other Side of Social Networking

The Other Side of Social Networking

On the Web, free speech isn't always free. In fact, sometimes it can be costly.

From The Executive Editor
Jim Thomas

For all the benefits we enjoy from social networking websites, we still have to address the dark side—that is, the abuse of these media that may ultimately harm our organizations. Employers, including optometrists, often express two concerns:

1. How to manage employees who log on to social networking sites during work hours.
2. How to deal with employees who post text, photos, audio clips or videos that may unrightfully compromise the organization.

Develop a policy … or else

The solution is to develop social networking policies for your employees, says Jonathan Segal, a partner in the law firm of Duane Morris in Philadelphia. In a recent interview on the NPR program Radio Times, Mr. Segal warned, “Not having a policy is having a policy. When you say nothing, employees are left to guess what's ok and what's not ok.”

Your policy manual will, in all likelihood, already address the first concern above, as it will include rules that prohibit the theft of company time and the use of company equipment for personal use.

“Unless you are posting content that furthers the organization's mission, then using social media at work is prohibited,” says Mr. Segal.

There are rules that apply to the content of the posts, including those that are considered personal and sent from home, says Mr. Segal. For example, posts must not violate HIPAA guidelines for patient confidentiality.

Rules that protect employees and patients from harassment also apply. “Off duty, off the clock is not a defense,” says Mr. Segal. Additionally, employers have a duty to respond to all comments “that are racist, sexist, ageist or homophobic.”

Other issues arise. For example, do you have the right to publicly post an image of someone without that person's permission?

Many people assume that rules don't apply to content they post privately. Unfortunately, private messages may be sent to others who then share them publicly, says Mr. Segal.

“In fact, some of the more troubling (public) postings were things that individuals intended to be private with a friend,” he says.

Unlike the employee who confides in a trusted coworker after hours, “social media truly is potentially telling the entire world how you feel about something,” says Mr. Segal.

The bottom line is this: For the protection of employees, patients and practices, every office benefits from a social networking policy, even if you can't tell a Twitter from Flickr. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: April 2011