A few days ago, The New York Times, ran a series of short essays from people on its “Room for Debate” page. The question it posed? “Should employers get tough with strict policies about social media activity, so that employees face consequences at work for what they say online?”

Standing on a soapbox

Not surprisingly, the opinion’s ranged from the “What you do or say on the Internet is none of your boss’s business except in the rare case where it affects the company” to “Absolutely, employees should face consequences at work for what they say on social media – sometimes”.

You will notice, of course, what these seemingly opposite statements have in common — the exception. 

That is, you should or shouldn’t take action — except when it matters.  Defining “when it matters” though is the tricky part.

For a hospital or financial services company, it may matter a lot more given how regulated those industries are. 

Indeed, the SEC issued guidance last week on how social media should be used in compliance with Regulation FD.  And last fall I highlighted the issue when some analysts were fired for disclosing insider information on Facebook. 

For a small company with a client base that isn’t tech-dependent, it may matter a lot less. 

The problem, of course, is still answering the question of “Does it really matter what the employee does online all the time?”

I would suggest, as I have before, that there is just not a one-size-fits-all answer to this.  Social media continues to go through “growing pains.” And companies need to figure out if the “punishment” fits the supposed “crime” online. 

What’s an employer to do if it hasn’t figured this out yet?

I’ll use what I said over a year ago:

Social media does not mean you have to throw out your existing rules. The rules on confidentiality, or anti-discrimination, for example, still apply on the online world. Employers just need to understand that they what happens in the workplace isn’t necessarily staying in the workplace anymore.