forbes magazine reported this week on a national labor relations board (nlrb) ruling regarding employee use of internet and social media policies. the agency came down hard on costco for excessive restrictions. the ruling came in response to charges filed nearly two years ago by a union, claiming the retailer’s policies violated the agency’s protections of expressions of employee grievances and organizing activities.
costco’s mistake? according the ruling, the retailer’s prohibitions were “too broad” – understandable, perhaps, given the policy was created at least two years ago and the dramatic subsequent increase in usage of social media channels like facebook, twitter and youtube. the costco policy reads:
“be aware that statements posted electronically (such as to online message boards or discussion groups) that damage the company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation or violate the policies outlined in the Costco Employee Agreement, may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment.”
it’s pretty clear the company’s attorneys weren’t thinking about pinterest or linkedin groups when they wrote the policy. specifically, the policy fails to consider the personal sharing that is now common across all these channels. by not excluding those communications as allowable, costco crossed the line into barring nominally private employee communications.
“oh, it’s just about unions – we don’t deal with that so our policy is fine”
ok, admittedly the nlrb’s ruling focused on labor organizing issues. however, the agency is part of the us government, and the actions of one branch can affect the others in unforeseen ways. just ask all the mob bosses who got sent away for tax evasion even though the real crimes couldn’t be proven.
the folks at business2community.com did a nice summary of implications for any business or organization coming out of the ruling. call the lawyer, guys – it’s time to update your social media policy!