Personnel e.bulletin – May 2013

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In 2012 we spent 74 billion minutes on social media sites. That sounds like a lot and it was; 20 percent of our time and most of that time during work hours.  With the pace of social media change and the continued rise in adoption of social media, can we as employers ignore it & hope it will just pass as a fad?

Not a chance. Facebook now has over 1 billion active users a day, YouTube has 1 billion unique users monthly and Twitter has grown to 500 million users.   These giants share incredible user communities, but they don’t stop smaller players from growing:

Tumblr – 30.8 million visitors – up 64%  year on year
Pinterest – 28.9 million visitors – up 284%  year on year
Instagram – 27.4 million visitors – up 284%  year on year

Tumblr is a site that “effortlessly lets you share anything”, by the way!

Okay, now that we know that there is no stopping the social media universe; certainly we can put a stop to social networking in our workplaces with a strict social media policy. Right? Not exactly. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is stepping up their role and establishing new rules as we speak and many states have set new regulations. Companies that have labored over the creation of policies to govern the use of social media, are retrenching and reconsidering now that the NLRB has concluded that many companies’ social media policies illegally hinder workers’ exercise of their rights.

With new NLBR rules in place, it should be easier to put together a company policy that establishes clear limits. Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of uncertainty.  Defining clear limits on social media posts, for example, without crossing the legal limits, remains difficult.

As confusing and evolving as this topic is becoming, it really is tempting to stick your head in the sand & ignore it! Instead, think through your need for a social media policy and consult with your labor attorney.

Becoming proactive in regards to social media in your workplace is challenging, but there are things that you can do. Based on all the statistics, your workforce is social media savvy, particularly your employees aged 25-34 who are most likely to use social media. Thirty-three percent of your 18-24 year-olds have used social media in the bathroom!

As savvy as they are, your employees will benefit from the following reminders:

 – Deciphering Is Hard, But the New York Times Test Is Easy. When it comes to the online world, things can be difficult to decipher and feelings and intent can be misunderstood. Often times, people will write something online, and because of the absence of body language and voice inflection, people can easily misunderstand what the person is saying. This can lead to hard feelings, as well as problems between employees.

Before writing anything to anyone, publicly or privately, ask yourself if you’d mind seeing it on the front page of the New York Times.  Or better yet, would you say this to your company’s president?

 – Social Media Is Not Anonymous. Many people mistakenly believe that the Internet provides anonymity, but that’s just not the case. There are ways to track down the information to find the source from where comments originated.

 – Always Use Good Judgment and Make A Good Impression.  It’s important to always use good judgment when using social media tools. This goes for whether you are acting as an individual or on behalf of the company. Keep things in mind like any photos posted and comments made. In other words, you may want to skip the pictures of you partying down on a Saturday night.

 – Freedom Of Speech May Not Be So Free. Although freedom of speech exists and some people may feel they can make comments about their employer, boss, or co-workers, it doesn’t mean there won’t be any repercussions. In all likelihood, there will be some problems that arise if you do engage in writing negative or hurtful things. Even if they cannot outright let you go for what you said, it could mean you will get passed up for possible promotions or there may just be bad feelings with co-workers.

 – Know Copyright Laws. It’s important to always know copyright laws. Once you know what you can use, borrow, and need to pay for, always be sure to follow it in order to keep yourself out of trouble. Copyright laws cover both images used online, as well as verbiage.

 – Maintain Confidentiality. Another issue that many people like employees to keep in mind is that they should maintain confidentiality about their work and fellow employees. This means they should not post photos of the people without their permission.

 – Own It. Always take responsibility for what it is that you put online through the use of social media. If you used poor judgment and put something on there that you shouldn’t have, own up to it and apologize. You should also do what you can to remove it.

 – Protocols Exist For a Reason. If you are using social media for work purposes, you will most likely have additional rules you will need to follow. These may include everything from how your boss prefers things be written, to image usage, and how often they would like things posted. Be sure to know and follow these protocols. If you feel there is a problem with one of them, or have an idea for something better, be sure to discuss it with those in charge.

 – Transparency Is King.  Always be transparent when you are using social media, especially if you are doing so for your job. Let people know who you are and where you work. If you are responding to something outside of work that people may confuse for a work related position, add a short disclaimer that states your opinion is no reflection upon or is not associated with your job.

 – Time Honored Golden Rule. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Treat your colleagues the way you’d want to be treated at work. Ask yourself, “Would I want to be on a job with myself? What about grab lunch?” Don’t be the employee who publicly shames a co-worker to coerce him into action. Don’t go directly to someone’s boss instead of addressing that employee first. Never write something out of anger, spite or personal vendetta. Basically, don’t overstep your boundaries.

Keeping pace with social media as it relates to the workplace is demanding, even daunting. Use your attorney to guide you through the policy side of the equation and your people as multipliers. They both will help you get to the right answers.


This content was developed for the PHCC Educational Foundation by TPO, Inc. ( Please consult your HR professional or attorney for further advice, as laws may differ in each state. Laws continue to evolve; the information presented is as of June 2013. Any omission or inclusion of incorrect data is unintentional. Please note this article is not intended to provide legal advice or to substitute for supervisor employment law training.


The PHCC Educational Foundation, a partnership of contractors, manufacturers and wholesalers was founded in 1987 to serve the plumbing-heating-cooling industry by preparing contractors and their employees to meet the challenges of a constantly changing marketplace. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting the Foundation by making a contribution at

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