This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.
By John V. Berry, Esq.
For the last few years, we have been advising employees on the proper use of social media in connection with their employment. Social media is one of the most unique and changing areas of employment law today. This article provides some basic tips for employees and a summary of their current rights in Virginia.
Social Media Tips — Things to Avoid
- Friends & Supervisors: Avoid (where possible) becoming friends or connected with supervisors (and sometimes co-workers). It has often been the case that we have had employees face discipline resulting from Tweets, Facebook or Instagram posts that even well-meaning individuals forward to the employer. For instance, we have seen posts ridiculing a supervisor eventually make it to the supervisor. It tends to create an atmosphere ripe for retaliation and discipline.
- Avoid Workplace Criticism: Avoid mentioning problems or other issues that arise at work. We have usually found that even a well-meaning friend can pass on information to a supervisor or company official that can lead to discipline or, at minimum, a less comfortable work environment.
- Don’t Discuss Company Clients or Projects: Avoid mentioning clients or other work specific information from your employer in your social media posts. Sometimes these clients get word of the post, see it online, or it makes the news. As a result, the employer often then takes disciplinary action against the employee.
- Avoid Social Media During Work Hours: While this may or may not be feasible for everyone, it is a good idea to avoid social media posting while at work. We have seen employees written up for social media posting during work hours or when using employer computers. In some cases, employers have argued, where social media posts include the time and date posted, that they have not been working their duties while getting paid.
Social Media Employee Protections in Virginia
Some states have begun to legislate initial protections for social media accounts held by employees. This is the case in Virginia. While the relatively new law in Virginia doesn’t protect an employee from the content that they post online, it offers some protection for employees. Specifically, it bars employers from demanding or requiring access to an employee’s social media information as part of their employment.
Virginia Code § 40.1-28.7:5 protects employees from employers (1) requesting their sign on information to media accounts; and (2) requiring an employee to add a company manager or representative as a friend or contact on the social media account. I suspect that we are only at the initial stages of the laws that will define employee social media protections in the workplace with more to come.
Keep in mind that not all companies take offense to social media posting and can have lax policies. The best idea is to find out company policy from the employer as early as possible. When facing employment issues it can be important to have the assistance and advice of counsel.