Social Media and Its Risks to Employers

By Roger Foisy on November 29th, 2011

In a society where checking Facebook or accessing Twitter becomes a daily habit, it is safe to assume that employees visit these types of sites during work hours and on work designated devices, like smartphones or laptops. It is also safe to say that these social media outlets are used daily for the purpose of business.

Social media has taken over the lives of everyday workers and unfortunately, this can have serious impacts on their and their employer’s career. The most common lawsuit with regards to social media sites is a defamation suit, resulting from either written or spoken slander which injures the reputation of another. If employees make harmful comments about a person or corporation on social media sites while they are in the workplace or on work devices, the employer can become liable.

In general, people do not realize the impact they can make by posting a comment online. With more communication occurring online and less thought going into these comments, it puts both the employees and their employers at risk of these types of suits. In many cases, the use of social media sites is directly involved with work and anyone who “publishes” particular material is liable. The question becomes, are employers considered publishers when employees make certain comments on social media which can be linked back to the employer? The simplest way to answer this question is with “vicarious liability”, where the action of the employees during work hours generally does make the employers liable.

There are precautions that can be taken by employers. The best action for an employer to take with regards to this issue is to encourage their employees to think before they write anything online and inform them of the dangers associated with posting comments online. The biggest problem which results in these lawsuits is lack of knowledge. Employees must be informed of the consequences of using social media to communicate because it is so immediate and widespread. These employees need to see cases which have dealt with these types of lawsuits, but there are not very many, and the results of one case will not necessarily apply to another.

About Roger R. Foisy

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