During World War II there was an expression designed to keep people from sharing seemingly unimportant information with others, especially in public places: “Loose lips sink ships.” Today that public space is the internet, and the “loose lips” of employees can quickly tarnish a company’s reputation or divulge confidential information. The key is to make it very clear that the company has specific expectations about how employees will (or will not) communicate online about the company.
The informal approach
The simplest way to make your expectations clear for your employees is to meet with them face-to-face and let them know their obligations and responsibilities. It makes the imperative personal and serious. There’s nothing more crystal-clear than looking them in the eye and telling them whether they can or cannot talk about certain things outside of work, and if they can, what the parameters are for sharing information approved to be released.
This is most effective if timed correctly. It makes the most sense to inform employees about such expectations shortly after hiring them. If you wait too long, they won’t realize that their conduct and the habits they have formed are in breach of your expectations. One systematized way of debriefing employees is to send out an informal information letter. You can use this to:
- Remind employees of their responsibilities to the company relating to confidentiality and what information they can and cannot share, and in what ways
- Remind employees they can’t share such information with anyone, including friends and family, and especially not the internet—at least not without prior approval
- Specify how long this obligation is to survive, be it forever or just until the end of their employment
Implement company guidelines
It’s a good idea to more formally write down and disseminate a company-wide policy that describes the company’s policy and guidelines on what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable sharing of information and representation of the company outside of work.
Making an electronic copy of the guidebook available on every employee’s computer and drawing it to their attention ensures that an employee can’t say you never told them or they had no way of knowing!
Set it in (contractual) stone
If you really want to make sure your employees are under a legal obligation to do nothing that could tarnish the reputation of the company, include language in the employment contract requiring employees to adhere to the company policies as revised from time to time. Include confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses in the contract, or have them sign an NDA. Make sure these clauses include express provisions that forbid discussion of the company or company business on social media or with the press, without express authorization by the company.
The threat of dismissal for breach of their employment contract is likely the best incentive when it comes to encouraging employees to uphold their employer’s image on the internet. Setting clear expectations early on can save everyone much grief—and keep loose lips from sinking the company ship.
To see a standard employment agreement, visit our Small Business Law Library!