Over the last year, the issue of social media usage by employees and responses from employers has been fairly heavily discussed and debated. This discussion has primarily been related to discipline/termination matters. For one, the NLRB has put employer social media policies under the microscope and issued clarifying information about a variety of policy examples. Employers can expect those policy language debates and its impact on employee discipline to continue throughout 2012.
The next breaking wave of social media disputes may be focusing on ownership of social media accounts created and utilized by employees in the course of conducting an employer's business. Imagine your business setting up a Twitter account designed to communicate with your customer base and building a significant following over a period of a year or two. What happens when the employee responsible for the company's social media presence resigns and takes the account with her by simply changing the login and password information? One can imagine the employer might file suit to recover the account and the significant base of followers. How these disputes play out remains to be seen. There are currently cases pending in the Northern District of California (Twitter) and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (LinkedIn) involving disputes of this nature.
Employers should stay tuned as those cases work toward resolution in 2012 or 2013. In the meantime, employers should consider adding language to their social media policies or employment contracts to reflect the employer as the owner of the social media accounts created on the employer's behalf by its employees. This will put employers in the best position possible should one of these disputes arrive on their doorstep.