Burr & Forman

10.29.2019   |   Articles / Publications

Bloomberg Law: INSIGHT: Watch for Employment Law Issues in Company Social Intranets

Reproduced with permission. Published October 29, 2019. Copyright © 2019 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. 800.372.1033. For further use, please visit: http://bna.com/copyright-permission-request/

A social intranet can put the most productive aspects of social media to work for a company. By transforming a static intranet with a few faceless authors into a dynamic and open experience, employees can author and share content, maintain personal profiles, and join groups with coworkers.

However, bringing the “outside” social media world inside company walls may have some risks, raising a wide range of questions for counsel implicating federal and state employment law.

Remember Employees’ Rights

When introducing a social intranet platform, it is vital that employers remember employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) indicates that employee discussions on social media can constitute protected concerted activity. In a social intranet setting, it is foreseeable that employees could communicate more easily on a concerted basis under the NLRA.

When drafting a social intranet policy, employers must not prohibit discussions of terms and conditions of employment. However, rules aimed at promoting “harmonious relationships” in the workplace are lawful.

In an advice memorandum, the NLRB’s Office of the General Counsel concluded that an employer’s social media rule prohibiting employees from posting discriminatory, harassing, bullying, threatening, defamatory, or unlawful content was permissible under Boeing Co., even though the rule targeted social media posts rather than conduct at the workplace.

This guidance is helpful for social intranet policy drafting because social intranet usage is likely closer to workplace conduct than social media usage.

Even so, there may be future challenges to employer regulation of social intranet content. Recently, Google drew attention for a settlement it reached with the NLRB. The company agreed to post a notice to its employees that it will not, among other things, interfere with their ability to freely raise workplace diversity issues and requests to clarify permissible workplace behavior to the company.

It also provided that Google will not make it appear that it is watching out for employee protected concerted activities or ask that employees report one another for engaging in protected concerted activity.

While unrelated to the settlement agreement, Google has also amended its community guidelines, encouraging employees to avoid “disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics” and requiring managers to address discussions violating company rules. This illustrates the potential for thorny questions about how to regulate a vibrant social media platform in the workplace within the boundaries of labor and employment laws.

Download the full article, “INSIGHT: Watch for Employment Law Issues in Company Social Intranets.

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