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What to Do Before Your Employees' Gossip Goes Viral

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- These days you'd be hard pressed to find a professional job seeker without a profile on LinkedIn (LNKD) , a Facebook (FB) page or a Twitter account. It's obvious the way we communicate has changed -- but should it affect the way we hire and manage employees?

An overwhelming majority of companies -- 92% -- use social media to recruit, according to a recent survey by Jobvite. But what happens once an employment offer is made? There are no definitive rules on how to manage social media in the workplace, but there are steps you can take to ensure your employees and your lawyers "like" your policies and #understandtherules.

We checked in with legal and workplace experts to find answers to some of the most frequently asked workplace social media questions.

Break this down for me. What are the do's and don'ts of social media in the workplace?

"There is no hard and fast rule," says Anthony Rainone, employment law partner at Brach Eichler in Roseland, NJ.

In a situation where employees are fighting over social media, Rainone says that discipline depends on what was said.

"The easy situation is one employee making physically threatening remarks to another employee," he says. "In that case, an employer should feel comfortable disciplining or terminating the threatening employee."

Those situations are rare, though. The most common situation is much harder to combat.

"The more common situation is one employee making a comment about or to another employee via a Facebook post. Then the issues that arise include whether the comment constitutes unlawful harassment and whether the employer had knowledge of the harassment."

Other issues include whether the comment was made by a supervisory employee and if the employer had knowledge of the harassing statement and did not act promptly with disciplinary action.

That sounds complicated. What should employers do as a baseline to keep themselves safe before problems arise?

"We usually recommend employers of all sizes incorporate a social media usage policy into their employment and procedures manual," Rainone says. "This is something even a five-employee business should have."

But the policy must be crafted so as not interfere with employees' rights. For example, even if your employees have fought about touchy topics such as politics and religion, it's not OK to restrict them from posting those items.

"I would caution against such broad policies in the case of an employee's personal social media account," Rainone says. "When employers try to take action based upon lawful employee activities outside of the workplace -- however distasteful they may be -- they are taking an unnecessary risk of litigation."

Another good rule of thumb employers and management should keep in mind is not to "friend" any subordinate employees on Facebook. LinkedIn, however, is OK for employees of any level to connect, he says.

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