Social media interactions are second nature to many employees today. For this reason social media poses great risks to maintaining the secrecy of valuable information, unless managed properly. Here are some steps that employers need to consider:
Defining Limits: I remember being told years ago that you don’t discuss confidential information in an elevator because you never know who is standing next to you. At that time, this was quite a revelation to me. Today, social media is like the biggest elevator in the world. While most employers have employees sign non-disclosure agreements, employers must also implement employee policies (and periodically reinforce these policies) that emphasize that confidential information is not to be disclosed over social media – even to what one assumes is a small group of friends.
Ownership of Contacts: If LinkedIn (or a similar network) is used for business, then an employee’s contacts (which would often be the employer’s confidential information) should be set to “private” so as not to be viewable by other network members. Additionally, policies should be in place that specify that social network contacts used for business purposes is the confidential information of the employer and must be deleted or otherwise managed upon termination of employment in accordance with employer instructions.
Bottom Line: Ownership and control over employee social network accounts in an unsettled area of law. Nevertheless, employers can implement policies described above to put themselves in the best position to be able to retain and benefit from those accounts. However, when exercising control over such accounts, employers must be careful not to violate an employee’s rights under state or federal law (e.g., the National Labor Relations Act).