Employment Law Attorneys & Death by Social Media
Employment Law Attorneys & Death by Social Media
Employment Law Attorneys & Death by Social Media

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR (@blogging4jobs), who is an HR consultant, new media strategist, and author who writes at Blogging4Jobs.com.

Social media is changing the way we live and work.  Technologies like smartphones, tablets, and wifi make it possible to work almost anywhere.  Organizations are beginning to add more telework strategies, social media technologies, and corporate employee engagement programs integrating these new technologies into an organization’s external as well as internal communication and engagement strategies.

Yes, the world of work is changing and for the better and yet an organization’s senior leaders and human resource professionals struggle with understanding these technologies.  They remain conflicted, and I’m not surprised.

Employment law attorneys who specialize in advising and protecting companies by mitigating risk are misinforming curious corporate leaders about the damages and the negative effect social media can have on organizations.  These legal eagles are advising their clients on the risks of social media without fully understanding how the platforms can be leveraged to protect the organizations they can potential serve.

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 14:  The 'do not enter'...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

And it really pisses me off.

Flash back to 2007, when attorneys advise that all social media sites be blocked by corporate servers, completely ignoring a much bigger issue.  And that issue continues to grow in popularity, the Internet equalizer — the smart phone.

It’s time to take a stand.  And that means you becoming a partner, a resource, a champion working directly with your corporate HR teams.  That means you, Joe Employee working with HR to make the case for social media.

I spent the better part of the last week of June at the 2011 Annual Society for Human Resource Management Conference where corporate human resource professionals came together to learn, network, and discuss trends in hiring, employee retention and engagement, and HR development.  Think of it as the SXSW of HR.  Nearly 17,000 HR professionals invaded Las Vegas with the purpose of improving the industry, furthering their professional development, and discussing ways to better align their departments with the company’s organizational goals.

Most outside of the industry are surprised to know that the human resources and recruiting technology industries are extremely advanced in their use of social media and mobile technologies.  Companies like Rypple use social media to increase employee appreciation working with organizations like Facebook.  Or companies like find.ly are developing new technologies based on cloud computing and social media preferences to plot an employee’s future career trajectory.  Thus allowing for companies and recruiters to customize and target their message making the employee engagement experience truly one of a kind.

Technologies like these are the sexy side of human resources leveraging the latest and greatest social media and engagement tools to improve efficiency in hiring and engagement within where work or would like to work.

I sat and listened in frustration, anger, and dismay as attorney after attorney advised human resource leaders to continue to avoid social media because of its perceived risk.  This perceived risk by attorneys is based on their lack of adoption or understanding of how social media can be used to the organization’s advantage and technologies that can be leveraged.

Blatant ignorance by the majority of attorneys is more than disappointing.  In one session, I listened to an attorney advice HR pros to discourage corporate leaders from “friending” their employees on Facebook.  The attorney opened her session by announcing to the group that she had just joined Twitter.  She failed to understand the tools, particularly Facebook because otherwise, she would known that by creating lists organizational leaders can friend their employees continuing to create a culture of conversation without fear.  By restricting and customizing the level of access employees have to a manager’s personal profile. Clearly she did not.

And it didn’t stop there.  I had to physically restrain myself from leaping out of my chair and defending the tools and explaining the intricacies making the case for instead of against social media to my peers.  Social media is user driven.  It’s founded on collaboration and conversation and that’s likely something that a 5-page social media policy won’t start, stop, or discontinue.  It’s up to us to stop the advisement of avoidance and death by social media.

Are you with me?

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR (@blogging4jobs) is an HR consultant, new media strategist, and author who writes at Blogging4Jobs.com.  Her company, Xceptional HR offers social media strategies, human resources, and recruiting consulting with an eye on digital media.  Jessica is the author of “Tweet This!  Twitter for Business,” a how-to business guide for Twitter.


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About the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • Later this week I present to a group of healthcare attorneys.  One of my top goals is to educate them on the real risks of social media, so they can provide better advice to their provider clients.

  • Employment Lawyers London

    The basic feature of employment law in almost every country is that the rights and obligations of the worker and the employer between one another are mediated through the contract of employment between the two. This has been the case since the collapse of feudalism and is the core reality of modern economic relations. Many terms and conditions of the contract are however implied by legislation or common law, in such a way as to restrict the freedom of people to agree to certain things to protect employees, and facilitate a fluid labour market. In the U.S. for example, majority of state laws allow for employment to be “at will”, meaning the employer can terminate an employee from a position for any reason, so long as the reason is not an illegal reason, including a termination in violation of public policy.

  • Of course it’s the attorney’s job to calculate and present risks, but where attorney’s OFTEN fall short is understanding “business risk” or the risk vs. reward, and by taking a stand on something from a fear mongering pulpit  and/or one sided perspective before they themselves fully understand the use case, the HUGE benefit, as well as the tools that are available for the same purpose of mitigating risk, they are doing a disservice.

    Social media and all of the technology being developed in conjunction with as business tools, is not going anywhere. There is still an assumption (just like when the internet was first introduced) that people will waste away all their time on it, but can you imagine what the world would look like today if we still looked at the internet in its most basic form as a way to connect and we still banned it from corporate servers, vs. embracing all of the tools and technology and platforms that have been developed to be used in conjunction with the internet and make us more effecient and effective in not only how we do business, but in how we live???

    Think about that for a minute.

    We often hear the phrase, “fear of change” but the reality is we are only afraid of the unknown that is the result of change, not the change itself because we make changes all day long, every day. We learn to adapt. Social Media is no different and unfortunately, the attorneys who still operate from the perspective of fear (and everyone else who doesn’t have a FB page while they denounce social) would all do good to pull their heads out of the sand and at least seek to understand before they condemn. Otherwise, have fun on the sidelines while everyone else finds the best ways to integrate. And when they are looking for a new job, they can look in the Sunday paper (where the other people with the same mindset will still be posting jobs).

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  • Guest

    Its the attorney’s job to calculate the risk and present those risks – not ignore them.  Despite every benefit social media offers, there are risks that need to be addressed.  Its by combining the two approaches, the overly lax business personand the overly scared attorney that a policy should be founded.

  • Heather Bussing

    There are some employment lawyers that get it.  Check out Jay Shepherd, a Boston attorney with a great blog at http://www.gruntledemployees.com.  His social media policy:  “Be Professional.”  Also see my posts on social media and the law at the HR Examiner http://www.hrexaminer.com under EAB and Heather Bussing

  • Heather Bussing

    There are some employment lawyers that get it.  Check out Jay Shepherd, a Boston attorney with a great blog at http://www.gruntledemployees.com.  His social media policy:  “Be Professional.”  Also see my posts on social media and the law at the HR Examiner http://www.hrexaminer.com under EAB and Heather Bussing

  • Daniel Schwartz

    I completely concur. You just need to find lawyers who actually use social media and who can put the risks into some perspective. I said the exact same thing a year ago in my blog. http://www.ctemploymentlawblog.com/2010/09/articles/the-public-vs-private-facebook-page-thorny-issues-for-employers/


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