The employee handbook is an oft-overlooked component of any business’s communication system, and several recent developments point to the need for manufacturers to update their handbooks, especially in the area of social media use.
“With the rise of social media, it’s important for manufacturers to have up-to-date policies addressing social media use in the workplace,” says Beth Zoller, legal editor with XpertHR, a company that provides HR professionals with compliance tools and legal guidance. “If a manufacturer requires its workers to create social media accounts for business purposes, the handbook should clearly state who owns that account so there’s no confusion if employment is terminated.”
In addition, manufacturers can find themselves in hot water if employees make harassing or discriminatory comments on social media platforms.
“Employers can find themselves liable for those types of comments,” Zoller says.
Protecting trade secrets is critical for manufacturers, and social media creates new conduits through which proprietary information could potentially leak into the marketplace. Therefore, it’s imperative that companies explicitly state in their handbooks the types of classified information employees may not talk about in social media.
“The best advice to employers is to be specific and give precise examples of what you consider to be confidential information,” Zoller says.
It doesn’t do any good to have an overly broad social media policy, Zoller emphasizes. In fact, the National Labor Relations Board has been striking down companies’ policies that it deems too broadly restrictive.
“On one hand, the NLRB might invalidate a social media policy on its face,” Zoller says, “On the other, it might go after an employer who retaliates or discharges an employee based on social media activity. So there’s a lot going on. Manufacturers have stay on top of all of this and have clear, up-to-date policies to ensure consistency and minimize liability.”