Social Media: Minimizing Risks

Educating Staff on Appropriate Uses
Ethicist Roy Snell warns of a common misperception about social media.All employers need to overcome the widespread but incorrect notion that "you can say anything you want on social media and not have any consequences," says compliance specialist Roy Snell.

A new survey shows that 42 percent of organizations in various industries have disciplined an employee for their behavior on social media, up from 24 percent three years earlier, Snell notes.

The survey of nearly 500 compliance and ethics professionals was conducted by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics and its subgroup, the Health Care Compliance Association. Snell is CEO of both.

"People are treating social media as a unique form of communication. But it's not terribly different," Snell stresses in an interview. Thus, all staff members need to be trained about rules that apply to all forms of communication. For example, in healthcare, clinicians need to know it's a violation of HIPAA to use social media to discuss patients, he notes.

In the interview, Snell:

  • Notes that the survey found only about a third of organizations have a policy addressing employee use of social media outside the workplace, which he says is essential to safeguarding information ranging from trade secrets to patients' healthcare details.
  • Advises organizations to get copies of social media policies from others when building a comprehensive approach to ensuring privacy. The two organizations he heads have social media sites, sccenet and hccanet, that offer a library of social media policy documents.
  • Calls for having the social media policy clearly endorsed by the CEO, executive committee or other senior leadership group.
  • Recommends educating staff about the policy as part of their annual compliance training as well as during new employee orientation.
  • Endorses instructing compliance officers to find a way to regularly update all staff members about infractions of social media policy and disciplinary action taken.

As CEO of the Health Care Compliance Association and the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, which together have more than 9,000 members, Snell has developed numerous partnerships with government, industry and other professional associations. He has facilitated collaboration between the compliance and ethics profession and the enforcement community. He is a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional. Snell formerly was an administrator at Mayo Clinic, a consultant and a compliance officer.

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