Employee behavior on social media: how your company can respond from a PR and legal perspective

Godshall Professional Recruiting & Staffing held a panel discussion on how to approach employees and their social media use.

By Julie Godshall Brown, president & owner, Godshall Professional Recruiting and Staffing

What: Panel discussion on Employees and Social Media: What to do when they trash you, reveal your secrets, or otherwise act badly online
Where: Godshall Professional Recruiting and Staffing
Who Was There: Speakers: Marion Crawford, president and CEO of Crawford Strategy, and Stephen R. Woods, shareholder at Ogletree Deakins. Audience was 50+ business leaders and professionals


Anyone and everyone can voice their opinions on social media, and it could become viral instantly. But what do you do when a current or former employee trashes your organization, reveals confidential information, or just plain out acts badly online?

Too many companies today have experienced a situation like this: an employee complaining about their job or supervisor, a former employee posting a negative review on a job application site, or a prospective employee trashing the company after not receiving an offer.

At a panel discussion hosted by our team, we invited Marion Crawford, president & CEO of Crawford Strategy, along with Stephen R. Woods, shareholder at Ogletree Deakins, to discuss actions your organization can take from a public relations and reputation management perspective to a legal perspective. Here’s what we learned.

From a public relations and reputation perspective

  1. When it comes to reputation, a strong defense is your best offense.

Develop your brand identity by proactively cultivating an open and ongoing dialogue with your employees from the recruiting and interview process to the everyday work life. This will create a positive employee experience and will encourage your employees to be representatives of your brand.

Step one in developing your brand identity is defining who you are as a company. Ask: Who are we? What do we stand for? How do we behave? Why do we do what we do? What are our brand promises?

Step two is establishing core values that are a set of agreed-upon behaviors that every employee at every level should know, embrace, and deliver every day. Core values help provide guidelines for what is expected from a behavior and deliverables perspective for your team. How do we want to behave as a group?

Defining your values gets to the heart of living the brand because a brand is only as strong as the people who deliver it each day. Every employee is a company spokesperson, so it is best to equip them to be the best spokesperson they can be.

  1. Control the message before it controls you.

Establish a social media policy based on your company’s core values and mission statement. Social media is simply a form of communication — like speaking, carrying a sign, writing a letter, etc. It is a behavior. The question is, does the employee’s behavior (in person or online) align with the values of your organization? This is where a social media policy comes into place.

  1. Be proactive, not reactive.

Establish a presence on social media where your audience spends time. Update content regularly, share your brand identity through your content, and use a consistent voice throughout. Create an identity that is harder to destroy.

Listen on social media to understand what is being said about your organization. Actively monitor mentions of your brand.

From a legal perspective

  1. Can’t this all be considered free speech?

The First Amendment prohibits the government — not private employers — from interfering with citizens’ freedom of speech; meaning, free speech does not apply to private employees unless you are a government entity. Employees do not have the right to trash their organization publicly, but there are limits. As an employer, you cannot control every little detail of your employee’s social media activity or meddle… until they give you a reason to do so.

For example, if an employee calls out sick, but posts a picture on social media of them partying the night before, you as an employer have the right to address this.

  1. But there are legal restrictions and requirements.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives non-supervisor employees the right to engage in protected concerted activity (PCA) — either in person or online. Concerted is defined as something that must be published to/shared with other non-supervisor employees. Social media poster may be acting on behalf of other non-supervisor employees — which must be obvious. Protected references the topic. If the comments are about wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment, the comments are considered protected. Shockingly, using profane language does not change the law either.

It’s also crucial to understand the difference in legality between a supervisor and a non-supervisor.

Type of employee Able to Engage in PCA? Protected by NLRA?
Supervisor No No
Non-Supervisor Yes Yes


However, the NLRA does draw the line at a certain point. Employees are not protected when they make a sharp, public, disparaging attack upon the quality of the company’s product and its business policies, in a manner reasonably calculated to harm the company’s reputation.

Bottom line: Reputation is everything.

Your brand reputation is a compilation of everything the brand does along with what your employees do. If you don’t take the time to cultivate your company’s reputation, your current, former, and prospective employees will do it for you.



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