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Along with concerns about employees comments and posts, Miles wanted to see how HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the use and disclosure of patients’ health information, might affect the company’s social media policy.
“With the ever-changing technology and social media, we’re revisiting it to see if we need to change anything we’re doing,” she said.
Right now the company tweets and blogs about social issues, like the Catholic Church making statements about an artificial insemination technique or other reports from the media, but it never posts pictures or news about patients, Miles said.
Still, there are gray areas.
Miles outlined a scenario where an employee of the company might be friends of a patient and post a picture of the patient on their own personal social media page, which links back to the company page.
“Is that a HIPAA violation?” she asked.
Harris Schwinn said this area of the law is still changing and there aren’t any bright line rules employers can follow.
While employees can talk about their employment, concerns about their workplace and more, those employees don’t have a right to share information about business processes or trademarks or take information that describes the process, she said.
Employers should also know that if an employee is promoting the company or a product on social media, the law requires that those employees identify their affiliation with the company, she said.
At the law firm of Henderson Franklin Starnes Holt PA, the practice has guidelines that are fairly straightforward and simple, said David K. Reading, director of administration for the firm.
“We advise not to say or post anything in social media that one would not say out loud to any group of people,” he said.
The firm developed its social media policy in mid-2010, as educational guidelines for its employees. It’s active in blogs, on LinkedIn and Facebook, and to a lesser extent Twitter, Reading said.
At the onset, the firm wanted to encourage use of social media but at the same time educate its staff about possible pitfalls.
Reading said the goal was to protecting one’s freedom of speech while at the same time attempting to protect the firm, and its brand and image.
Because the policy was more educational than restrictive, it’s been effective for the company.
There haven’t been any social media issues, and the firm hasn’t had to make any changes to the policy, Reading said.
Suzanne Boy, an associate attorney in employment law at Henderson Franklin, said that while the labor relations board has cracked down on overly restrictive policies, she still thinks it’s a good idea for companies to have one.
Having a policy in place can help business owners define what employees can and can’t do during working hours and how they can and can’t use company equipment, she said.