The Legal Tightrope: Navigating Employee Social Media Use in the Workplace
By Jacqueline Voronov Partner, Hall Booth Smith, P.C. | February 2024
The advent of social media has revolutionized the way people communicate and interact in the modern world. With the proliferation of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, individuals have gained unprecedented access to global audiences. However, the integration of social media into the workplace has become both a boon and a potential legal minefield for employers.
Employees' use of social media can have significant legal implications as it blurs the line between personal and professional boundaries, raises concerns about privacy and confidentiality and can impact the employer-employee relationship. This article explores the legal ramifications associated with employees' use of social media, focusing on areas such as privacy, free speech, intellectual property and workplace discrimination.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Privacy concerns loom large in the digital landscape. Employees may inadvertently or purposefully disclose sensitive company information, trade secrets or personal data of colleagues or clients. In many jurisdictions, employers have a legitimate interest in protecting their proprietary information and safeguarding customer data. Employers often require employees to sign confidentiality agreements that extend to their online activities. Violating these agreements may result in legal consequences, including termination, civil lawsuits and even criminal charges, depending on the severity of the breach.
While blanket prohibitions against revealing confidential information are not generally enforceable, employers are permitted to tell employees not to share information about proprietary formulas, customer lists, technological specifications and other trade secrets on their social media accounts. Specifics about what constitutes a trade secret should be included in your social media policy to ensure it passes legal muster. Trade secrets may include information regarding the development of systems, processes, products, know-how and technology.
Free Speech and Employee Rights