Social Media Employment Law

50 Shades of Great

Do you have an Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey working in the same department, late? Do you have Anastasia constantly trying to bond with an unwilling Grey? Or an aggressive Grey with suggestive Facebook messages to Steele? Interesting office.

Employment lawyers tend to have a hard time giving definitive answers when it comes to employment law, instead often giving the “it depends” or that question really involves a “grey area.” When it comes to the workplace and workplace policies, however, employers don’t want grey. They want great.

What a coincidence that the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” came out on Valentine’s Day weekend. If nothing else, it give us an(other) opportunity to remind you of a few things when it comes to love and social media (really Mike?). First: be mindful of office relationships that, while often spontaneous and perfectly acceptable between single adults, can quickly go from consensual to not-so-much. That is true particularly with employees who are on top of each other constantly in the same department, or even more so when there is a dominant-subordinate relationship involving a supervisor.

Some employers turn to “love contracts,” which actually involve a legal document for the two (I’m assuming just two) employees to acknowledge that they are engaged in a consensual relationship, as well as the protocol and process if one decides that he or she no longer wants to be in the relationship and feels aggrieved about anything.  Such a document can be a little awkward, but some employers want them as protection in the event of a future lawsuit.

Second: Employees tend to use holidays and events, particularly one like Valentine’s Day as an excuse to try to reach out and touch someone. Some use social media, when it is so much easier and quicker to say things you might not say in person. It is always a good time for your company to remind employees that social media is not the wild, wild west, and that workplace policies involving harassment, discrimination and retaliation still apply. Posting things about some scenes from the movie, or even showing certain portions of the trailer, may be unwelcomed. Whether it’s repeated requests for dates, over-the-top electronic cards, or other charged comments, if the comment, picture or activity would be inappropriate in person, it is similarly inappropriate over social media.

Employer Take Away:   What should you as an employer take away from this development?   

Open communication with your employees is always a good thing when it comes to managing social media use and employee relations generally. I didn’t say banning, and I didn’t say free-for-all.  I said “managing.” Keep your eyes and ears open to employees seeing or talking about this weekend’s new release, and the usual Valentine’s Day stories, and continue to make sure that your workplace is a safe and appropriate environment for everyone. That way you can avoid many of the grey areas and instead enjoy fifty shades of great.

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