Covering all your bases when it comes to your personal social media use and how it relates to your employer is never a bad idea. Reckless tweets and Facebook posts have cost people their jobs — a problem that didn’t even exist a few years ago. It’s becoming common for employees to add disclaimers to their Twitter bios, disassociating their personal thoughts and comments from those of their employers’.

But can one simple sentence completely detach you from your employer and the entity that provides you with a paycheck? And as an employer, how concerned should you be about what employees are saying outside (and perhaps inside) of the office on their own social media channels? Will a hasty disclaimer protect you from the implications of your employees’ thoughts? If your employees are tweeting, then you’ll want to take the following issues into consideration.

The Irony of the Twitter Disclaimer

The tech startup boom seems to have spawned a new crop of enthusiastic employees who are extremely excited to be associated with their employers. They include their work titles in their Twitter bios, check-in at their offices, and broadcast updates about their companies. By all means, taking pride in your employer and its accomplishments is nothing to be ashamed of, and employee involvement in social media has been linked to improving workplace morale.

However, there are some caveats to this workplace pride. It might be hard to recognize at first, but it’s somewhat of a contradiction to make the grand gesture of associating yourself with your employer explicitly, and then turning around and disassociating your thoughts and comments. Of course, many companies establish unique values and ideals for their employees to abide by, but these directives can’t even begin to cover the potential problems that could arise. This somewhat empty disassociation is unlikely to protect either party in a serious situation such as a defamation lawsuit against an employee.

Guilt by Association

The threat of irresponsible social media use by employees is self-explanatory, but extremely difficult to regulate. Employers can try to protect themselves from the potentially controversial posts of their employees by drafting a corporate social media policy. Consultants often recommend that social media guidelines should also be reviewed and vetted by legal counsel. The National Labor Relations Board recently released a 27-page memo covering a wide array of issues to help businesses develop social media policies, ranging from sharing confidential information to talking negatively about a fellow employee. The memo also aims to clear up any questions on infringement of free speech and labor rights, a common argument used by the National Labor Relations Board when defending employees.

Large financial firms such as Morgan Stanley even go so far as to block every single social media site to prevent any slip-ups or information leaks. However, even these precautions can’t prevent the unexpected. Accidental tweets sent from company accounts (instead of personal accounts) is now a common occurrence, and usually ends in unflattering media attention and public relations nightmares.

Your Employees Are Your Brand

Like it or not, anything said by an employee can have an effect on your brand image. If your employee gets in a squabble with someone over Twitter, it’s probable that the negative experience will be reflected onto your business and brand, even if the argument is completely unrelated. Even without social media, employees making their places of employment known is always a risk to their employers. The upside is that advising your employees to be responsible when representing your brand on social media is easier than preventing them from getting in bar fights after work!

Developing a concrete code of conduct and being forthcoming about how employees’ social media behavior can be a reflection of your brand (disclaimers aside) should help prevent unnecessary issues. Communicating the possible repercussions and even giving specific examples of previous mishaps should also help employees put things into perspective. You can also remind them of the age-old adage, updated for the present day: “When it doubt, don’t tweet it!”

If you’re hiring the right people, these problems should be infrequent. However, it’s always a good idea to check out prospective employees’ personal social media networks before hiring them. It’s an easy way to tell how people present themselves online and interact with others, in addition to giving you a feel for their personalities outside of the interview process.

[Image Credits: KellyK, Daniel Rothamel, Ibrahim Lujaz, David Wall]