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I have a friend who is an accountant at a small firm. Lets call him Cliff.  Cliff greets everyone with a compliment and is an ace accountant.  Cliff surfs the internet at work.  Cliff was recently on Twitter,  looking for people to follow.  He becomes Twitter “friends” with Samantha, an accountant at Hobes and Hobes, a rival firm.  From the looks of Samantha’s avatar, she is attractive.

Samantha asks Cliff to meet him at a bar after work. After a few dirty martinis, Cliff tells Samantha that his accounting firm is about to land Giggle, a big, funny internet company. Samantha buys the next round and that was the last thing he remembers.  He wakes up the next morning and finds out that Hobes and Hobes has landed the Giggle account.

Does your company block access to social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin because you are afraid of employees like Cliff? Is the work environment at your workplace hostile to employees who blog? If so, your company is part of the majority of organizations that have a restrictive social networking policy.

While a strict social networking policy is a simple way of limiting legal liability, do you really think that your company can compete in a 24 hour a day workplace with outdated policies? Probably not.  If your company is  struggling with how to integrate social media into the workplace, one way to focus is by creating a social media policy with an eye toward collaboration.

The Harvard Business Review observes that businesses are discovering that an über-connected work environment is not just about implementing a new set of tools — it is also about embracing a cultural shift to create an open environment where employees are encouraged to share, innovate and collaborate virtually.   Some benefits of a hyper-social company include:

  • Access to social media improves productivity;
  • Millennials will seek jobs that encourage the use of social media;
  • Companies that provide access to social media create a more engaged workforce.

After creating your hyper-social networking policy, it is then vital to address its legal implications, which I addressed previously in Legal Reasons Why Your Company Should Have a Social Networking Policy.


Employees are online whether you like it or not.  By simply banning the use of social networking sites on company computers, your employees will simply use smartphones to stay connected. By thinking expansively about social media, more specifically about using it for increased productivity and collaboration, there is great opportunity for growth.  Have your ideas written in the form of a social media policy, which will put your employees on notice of any potential legal problems. By the way, Cliff is not real. But he could be and you can be responsible for Cliff’s actions without a written social networking policy.

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There is no question that the Internet has changed the way companies hire people.  Currently 45 percent of employers use social networking sites and conduct online searches to screen applicants.  If you are a job applicant, that means that your potential employer is reading you Twitter feed and analyzing your blog posts. 

While it is not illegal for an employer to to search a candidate’s social networking profiles, there are risks. In an article written by Jeffrey S. Kein and Nicholas J. Pappas for the New York Law Journal, they highlight a number of legal issues arising out of employees’ use of social networks. They list Anti-Discrimination Laws, Legal Activities Laws, National Labor Relations Act, Terms of Service Violations, Privacy Implications and Business Considerations. I will briefly discuss the the legal implications of Anti-Discrimination Laws.


By simply viewing a candidates social networking profile, certain information can be gleaned that can be a basis for a claim under discrimination laws. For example,  if an employer views the LinkedIn profile of a candidate and the employer decides not to hire the candidate or take action within a short time because the candidate lists that she is handicapped, the employer could be held liable.  The mere fact that the employer viewed her social networking site can be used as circumstantial evidence of discrimination.

Under New York Law, an employer must use the same standards when deciding who to fire.  The authors cite an Simonetti v. Delta Airlines, where Delta decided to fire a female employee because she posted revealing photographs online. She argued that she was being discriminated against because other male flight attendants also posted similar content and were not fired.




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Your employees are probably participating in social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. But what are your workers doing on Facebook while on the clock? Are they networking or are they sharing their 5 favorite beers? On the one hand, you want to trust your employees and make them feel like they have autonomy to perform their work duties. On the other hand, you are paying them to work and you want them to present themselves professionally.

Recently, staffers of The Wall Street Journal were provided a compiled list of rules for “professional conduct” which regulates online behavior. Should your company follow the lead of the Wall Street Journal and draft a written social networking policy advising what your employees can post while working at the office? If you would like to limit potential company liability to lawsuits, the answer is yes. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. A written social networking policy may shield your Company from defamation lawsuits. What happens if your employee starts posting on Facebook untrue statements about a competitor? Without a written social networking policy, your Company could be sued for defamation.

2. Potential disclosure of Company proprietary information. Let’s say that your business has created the next killer app that will be ready to launch in 3 months. By having a non-disclosure section written into your social networking policy, your employee would be on notice and could be held liable for posting on LinkedIn such information.

3. Your business’s social networking use policy should encourage positive and constructive use of the social networking sites, as well as to prevent the use of such sites for personal or inappropriate reasons. You could be held liable for anything that your employees say of a personal nature on social networking sites.

4. Potential use in litigation. Information disseminated by your employees on social networking sites can be uncovered by a potential adversary and used against your company in litigation. Therefore, you should be clear about the type of topics that can be discussed on social networking sites.

5. Intellectual Property. Trademark and Copyright laws extend to what your post on social networking sites. Your social networking policy should make clear that your employees should refrain from posting trademarked or copyrighted material while representing the company.
So, your Company should regulate social networking use in a more expanded way than the way you regulate other Internet use. By being upfront about the potential problems of social networking, you could help both you and your employees successfully utilize this tool and avoid unwanted lawsuits.

Further Resource:

Online database of social networking policies.

Contact the Law Office of Frederic R. Abramson at 212-233-0666 for more information about social networking policies.

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Legal Problems of Social Networks

by Fred Abramson on February 12, 2009 · 3 comments

You are probably using social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Linked in for a variety of purposes, from updating your status, to networking with college friends that leads to new business.  Although the law on social networks is evolving, there are several issues that you need to be aware of to protect yourself legally.  Listed below are 5 issues that you need to be aware of regarding the legal problems of social networks.

1.    Privacy:

Some information that you provide on social networks are available to the general public, such as the name of your employer and photographs. As a result, any claim of a right to privacy to any material posted on social networking sites may be lost.

2.    Identity Theft:

Social networks contain a treasure trove of personal information.  For instance, my Blackberry was recently stolen and the thieves were able to hack into my Facebook account. The information gleaned from the site, such as date of birth, mother’s name and hometown could have been used by a thief to steal my identity.

3.    Potential use in litigation:

Such personal information can be obtained by legal adversaries and may be exploited if you are ever involved in a lawsuit. Before posting, think about how any information can be used against you

4.    Defamation:

Social Networking sites do not provide immunity from defamation laws. Expressing your views about Britney Spears may be fine, but watch out for any defamatory comments that you make regarding anyone else.

5.    Intellectual Property:

There are no special laws shielding users of social networks from trademark and copyright laws.