How to Handle Inappropriate Comments from Employees on Social Media Sites

The Chrysler Corp. and Aflac both came under fire in March as a result of careless comments made on Twitter, which sparked major PR disasters.

Because it’s still in its infantile stages, the finer points of social media etiquette, in some areas, are still up for debate. As a business owner, it’s crucial that you set social media guidelines to prevent putting your company in an embarrassing light.

Social media comments are acceptable, as long as an employee is not targeting any individual or group specifically, says Beverly Williams, a human resource specialist at Insperity, a Houston-based business performance solutions provider.

Even if you don’t participate in social media as a company, you should have a written social media policy that addresses what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for your employees to share. For example, if an employee had a frustrating day at work and shares his feeling in a status message on Facebook, it may be a little extreme to consider this defamatory to your company. But if an employee makes an offensive comment about a manager or another employee, it may be considered harassment or bullying and it needs to be addressed immediately.

“Have a company meeting about the responsibilities of having social media,” says Williams.

She suggests that you make it very clear that none of the company’s confidential or proprietary information be shared on any social site. Employees that use the company’s social media accounts need to respect copyright laws and know how to properly site references so you’re business is not accused of plagiarism. Also, there should be a company-wide understanding that there is zero tolerance for discriminating or harassing comments of any kind, and that it could result in immediate termination.

Along with a clearly documented policy, Williams suggests you post social media policy posters in your employees’ common areas, such as break rooms and lunch rooms. It can also be helpful to designate a person or group who can speak to the social media activities and policies, so that employees know where to go if they have any questions about what is and isn’t allowed.

Punishment for employees who go against policy is usually decided on a case-by-case basis. Harassment and a breach of confidentiality are two cases that could lead to termination. For less detrimental situations and first time offenders, Williams suggests you counsel the employee.

“Take the employee aside and investigate what’s going on and why it was put on the website,” she says.

If you should decide to terminate an employee because of misuse of social media, be sure to collect all the appropriate evidence and documents prior to addressing the employee. As with any termination, everything needs to be well planned and documented. Before confronting the employee, you should seek legal counsel to ensure the reasons for termination.