By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
Over the last several years in our employment law practice in Virginia, we have been advising employees on the proper use of social media in connection with their duties as an employee. Social media is one of the most unique and changing areas of employment law today. This article provides some basic tips for employees and a summary of their current rights in Virginia.
Social Media Tips – Tips for Employees to Avoid
Don’t Add Friends & Supervisors: Avoid (where possible) becoming friends or connected with supervisors (and sometimes co-workers). It has often been the case that we have had employees face discipline resulting from Tweets, Facebook or Instagram posts that even well-meaning individuals forward to the employer. For instance, we have seen posts ridiculing a supervisor eventually make it to the supervisor. It tends to create an atmosphere ripe for retaliation and discipline.
Avoid Workplace Criticism on Social Media: Avoid mentioning problems or other issues that arise at work. We have usually found that even a well-meaning friend can pass on information to a supervisor or company official that can lead to discipline or, at minimum, a less comfortable work environment.
Don’t Discuss Company Clients or Projects on Social Media: Avoid mentioning clients or other work specific information from your employer in your social media posts. Sometimes these clients get word of the post, see it online, or it makes the news. As a result, the employer often then takes disciplinary action against the employee.
Avoid Social Media Usage During Work Hours: While this may or may not be feasible for everyone, it is a good idea to avoid social media posting while at work. We have seen employees written up for social media posting during work hours or when using employer computers. In some cases, employers have argued, where social media posts include the time and date posted, that they have not been working their duties while getting paid.
Virginia Employee Protections for Employees and Social Media
Some states have begun to legislate the first protections for social media accounts held by employees. This has been the case in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While the relatively new law in Virginia doesn’t protect an employee from the content that they post online through social media, it offers some protection for employees from employers who demand that an employee share it with them. Specifically, the new law bars employers from demanding or requiring access to an employee’s social media information as part of their employment.
Virginia Code § 40.1-28.7:5 protects employees from employers in:
(1) requesting their sign on information to media accounts; and
(2) requiring an employee to add a company manager or representative as a friend or contact on the social media account.
Furthermore, the Virginia law bars retaliation from employers that seek such information and are turned down by the employee. The Virginia law provides that:
“An employer shall not:
1. Take action against or threaten to discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize a current employee for exercising his rights under this section; or
2. Fail or refuse to hire a prospective employee for exercising his rights under this section.”
It is likely that this is only the first step in legislative protections for this area given the significant of social media today. It is pretty clear that more protections for employees are needed and will come into place as states such as Virginia tackle the issue of how social media affects the workplace.
Keep in mind that not all companies take offense to social media posting and can have lax policies. The best idea is to find out company policy from the employer as early as possible. When facing employment issues it can be important to have the assistance and advice of counsel. If you need assistance with an employment issue, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on our Facebook page.