THE BLOG
12/30/2014 03:02 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2015

Why Your Small Business Needs a Social Media Policy For Your Employee Handbook

Most of us enjoy using social media during our personal time. But what happens when social media spills over into the workplace? Your small business suffers for every minute an employee uses social media during working hours. After all, you're paying them to do a specific job, not to correspond with friends -- or worse, posting comments that actually disparage your company.

A social media policy doesn't just protect your small business. It gives your employees guidance on how they should behave -- and not behave. For example, misuse of company logo, disclosure of trade secrets, racially offensive social media posts, sexually harassing posts, etc. Creating a clear-cut policy lets your employees know what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors could result in disciplinary action up to termination.

Unfortunately, many small business owners often neglect the importance of implementing a strategy for managing social media in the workplace. They often assume that a small handful of employees couldn't possibly harm their reputation, but it only takes one ill-advised post to damage your good name.

If you don't have a social media policy yet, here a few reasons why you should consider creating one.

Loyalty
You pay your employees and provide them with stability, so shouldn't they be loyal to your small business? If they're making derogatory remarks toward your business on social media, they should be terminated for their disloyalty. Even if a post is made on the employee's own computer on his or her own time, you may have legal grounds to terminate them. Be careful, though, that you don't violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) which protects employees who discuss the terms and conditions of employment with others.

Social Media Impact
Many employees don't realize the impact social media posts have on the public (and your potential customers). Just one negative post can lead to lasting damage to your brand, so you need a social media policy that identifies the risks of negative remarks.

Guidance
Your employees are not mind readers. They need specific guidance that tells them what they can post and, most importantly, what they can't. Be specific and give examples of what isn't acceptable. Being vague could mean that you don't have a legal right to terminate, even if you feel the employee posted inappropriate comments.

FTC Considerations
Social media policies don't have to just focus on the negative; they should focus on the positive comments, too. When employees promote your business via social media, they are required by the Federal Trade Commission to disclose their relationship to you. Not doing so could violate advertising policies with the FTC.

Wasted Time
Productivity suffers when employees use social media at work. As a small business owner, you can't afford to have employees spending their time on personal business. As long as they're on the clock, they need to be focused on your business.

HR and Social Media
When you're looking at a potential hire, do you look at their social media profiles? There is a fine line between what you can use via social media as a consideration for hiring. For example, you cannot use a potential employee's political standing, religion, or sexual orientation against them.

Protect Your Small Business
Social media policies protect everyone -- not just your small business. They prevent human resources disputes, ensure your reputation isn't damaged, improve revenue due to increased productivity, and even keep your employees from violating federal law.

Need help creating a social media policy? MJ Management Solutions knows the laws inside and out, and can help you establish a policy that works for your business. Call 310.798.4569 or visit us online to learn more about the ways engaging an HR professional can make your small business more productive and profitable.

Margaret Jacoby, SPHR, is the founder and president of MJ Management Solutions,a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive. This article first appeared on the MJ Management Solutions blog.

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