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    Managing Social Media in the Restaurant Workplace [Expert Corner]


    Managing Social Media in the Restaurant Workplace [Expert Corner]

    In this Expert Corner, we talk to Beth Shroeder, a 26-year veteran and partner at the Law Offices of Silver & Freedman in Los Angeles. Her career focus is employment law, and includes extensive work with local and regional foodservice and hospitality establishments.

    For restaurant chains, social media has become a growing concern, as employees have the potential to immediately share video, visual, and text format about their experiences at the restaurant. The knee-jerk reaction is to dictate what they can and can't say about the brand. What are some best practices around this topic?  

    Schroeder: The legal implications of controlling an employee's visibility in social media is still evolving as social media itself continues to develop. Employers have a great deal of control over what employees do and don't do while on company time, but the issue is, can—and should—they control employees on their own time?

    Generally, the same laws of defamation and trade libel apply in the context of social media as anywhere else, and employers should prohibit, by way of policy, any acts of trade libel or defamation by employees.

    They also should do a good job of making their employees feel a vested part of the concept, so employees want to say good things about their employer and the product they serve.

    What are some hot issues becoming more prevalent with regard to "managing" social media use in the restaurant or retail store level?

    Schroeder: The biggest issue, legally, has to do with employees communicating about their “job" when on personal time. Employees are permitted, under the National Labor Relations Act, to gripe and vent about the terms and conditions of their job. 

    Therefore, they have a protected right to complain about their bosses, vent about their hours, or even communicate that the place they work "is unfair" or doesn't pay them properly.  Whether they do that amongst their friends over a beer on a Friday night or via Facebook, that right is still protected, and employers may not prohibit it or discipline or fire for exercising it. 

    That is the hottest issue happening with employers everywhere in regarding social media. 

    Other issues involve such things as managers "fraternizing" with direct reports, be it on Facebook or elsewhere. Another related issue is employees becoming social media friends with customers…and what about competitors? 

    Can a restaurant operator control employees' followers or friends? If not, how can I handle employees "friending" the regular customers and then bad mouthing the restaurant or work supervisors?   

    Schroeder: There is some control, but it is limited. An employer can and should prohibit employees from posting negative and disparaging comments in any public forum when it has to do with the company's product or service. However, restaurants have limited ability to control whom their employees "friend," and certainly cannot keep them from posting or communicating about their terms and conditions of their job. 

    A better approach, frankly, is to monitor employees' comments, and when employers learn of a disgruntled current employee, address the issue with the employee. Sometimes it's a sign of a bigger problem, or merely a misunderstanding that the employee has. 

    Manage the public relations issue by opening the doors of communication, not trying to illegally shut them down.  

    How can a company instill a culture where employees might be more "professional" about how they manage their personal sharing sites?  

    Schroeder:  It's important for employers to remember that most restaurant employees are very young, and sometimes this is their first job. Professional messages should be sent via managers, and managers should also lead by example. 

    Often, owners have a generation gap when it comes to social media. The managers are usually right on there on Facebook alongside the employees. Their conduct on Facebook is important. Are they posting positive things, or are they also griping about their long days, their bad customers? 

    That usually is a sign of poor employee relations or management, not an issue of social media. Employees, especially managers, can be our best public relations source if they are vested and feel good about the service they are providing.

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    Beth Schroeder, is a partner in the Employment Law Department division, and General Counsel at Silver & Freedman, a law practice based in Los Angeles, California. She is a national speaker and the co-author of The EPL Book: A Practical Guide to Employment Practices, Liability and Insurance.

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