Social networking speech is protected, in the United States at least, by the same Constitution that protects other forms of speech.

iStock_000026151989SmallDo you have a policy?

CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) has added something to the Standards it provides to organizations seeking accreditation: A Social Networking standard (1.G.3.b), under the “risk management” section. Facilities seeking accreditation, or maintaining it, will now have to demonstrate that they are addressing the issue of social networking by their staff.

We’ve looked at the issue of social media in the past: How organizations can use social networking tools as media channels to build community and market their services. That’s a little different. The concerns addressed by the new CARF standard are the ones some of us have been having anxious moments about for some time, now:

  • What if an employee, on their own time and their own Facebook page, mentions a particular service they’re engaged in providing—to a particular client? (eeeek!!! HIPAA violation, HIPAA violation!!)
  • What if someone posts a “staff picnic” photo on their Pinterest page, and one of their colleagues in the photo happened to have an embarrassing ‘wardrobe malfunction’?
  • What if a frustrated supervisor posts something to their personal blog about how they think a “bad decision” by a particular manager affects clients or referral sources?

Yikes. Those are things none of us wants to deal with. But do we have the right to interfere with employees’ freedom of expression on their own time?

We don’t. Social networking speech is protected, in the United States at least, by the same Constitution that protects other forms of speech. And labor regulators are beginning to actively protect those rights and prohibit employers from placing “overly broad” restrictions on employee speech in the social networking arena.

Although social networking issues remain far from clearly delineated in Human Resources law, they are not all that different from other areas where employees’ individual rights and freedom must be balanced against the expectations of employers and the rights of clients, customers, and other groups protected by law. By identifying the new standard as a “risk management” procedure, CARF highlights the issues at stake, and points us to an effective tool: A Social Networking Policy.

Policies provide employees with information about what is expected of them, and give managers a means of guiding and building the organizational culture. If your facility doesn’t yet have a Social Networking policy, you might want to consider implementing one. If you’re CARF-accredited, it will be included in your next survey. To help, we’ve created some sample language in a simple .rtf file you may download (if you are a registered member of this site.) Just click the document image below.

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