Interviewee: James Crumlin
Bone, McAllester, Norton
Nashville, TN

There’s no escaping the swirl of social media. Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or you-name-it, your employees are probably using it. And the last thing you probably want to do is develop a company policy on the subject.

We thought it would be worth considering a little more closely, however, so we reached out to James Crumlin, a Partner in the firm of Bone, McAllester, Norton, in Nashville. James specializes in the area of employment law.

Borrowman: If you raised the subject of a Social Media Policy with employers, I could imagine they would roll their eyes and ask why they should bother. What would you say to them about why it’s worth thinking about?

Crumlin: You definitely need a Social Media Policy in today’s age of technology. When employees have such easy access to the Internet you want to have something in place that prevents them from making slanderous or other remarks that can be viewed as not in the best interest of the company.

Borrowman: Is it really that serious?

Crumlin: There are numerous cases where an employee had something very critical to say about his/her boss or the company. Instead of saying it to a fellow employee, however, he/she went to Facebook or Twitter and either posted or tweeted it. As a result, the employee was fired or faced disciplinary action. Remember that once you hit “Enter”, the horse is out of the barn and into the next state. In an instant, someone has probably seen that message and maybe even passed it along.

Borrowman: How should a policy address the use of social media to gather insight and perspective from professional colleagues regarding a particular project or issue?

Crumlin: Well, first, there’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking advice and perspective on certain issues. But, you have to be very careful about your posts and the questions you ask. What you’re doing is putting something out there for the whole world to see. There’s no control. A company needs to make sure its policy focuses on confidential and proprietary company information or company policies. That’s what you’re really out to protect: any type of intellectual property rights, any confidential information about who clients are or prospective clients are.

Borrowman: I’m sure no one actually names clients, for example. So, how big a problem can it be?

Crumlin: No matter how much care you take to maintain confidentiality when posting a question to a discussion group, there’s always the possibility that someone reading that post will know exactly who or what you’re referring to. It can be challenging to articulate precisely where the “line” is in terms of what can and can’t be posted. However, a company that has at least tackled that challenge faces less risk than one that hasn’t.

Borrowman: How far can a policy go in governing employees’ use of social media outside the workplace?

Crumlin: Employers need to implement a comprehensive policy. In doing so, you may come across some significant legal issues. As with many other policies, legal counsel can be valuable. Basically, an employer wants to make sure the employees aren’t saying anything slanderous or providing proprietary information about the company. A company is certainly within its rights to have a policy that prohibits use of social media outside the workplace when that use impacts the workplace.

Borrowman: If the employment situation is “at will”, anyway, why should an employer have a policy that lays out behavior that can result in termination?

Crumlin: Because the company wants to protect itself as well as its client base and proprietary information. You want to put the proper safeguards in place that allow you take action if certain behavior occurs. A well-written policy can help prevent problems in the first place.

A Social Media Policy doesn’t have to be lengthy or complex. The risks employers face in today’s high-tech world almost demand that something be in place.

James Crumlin Jr.
James Crumlin