During a public relations crisis, your company may need to monitor employee communications for several reasons. For example, to investigate potentially inappropriate behavior, you may need to review e-mails that employees have sent on company computers or servers. You also may need to view public social media postings, in order to gauge morale, monitor public opinion, or determine what improvements or responses to implement. (Depending on your size, you may find it worthwhile to designate an official or entire team to proactively monitor social media and other non-private information, to help get out in front of any developing issues.)

Although employees sometimes have a legal right to disclose certain information outside a company, companies have broad flexibility to prevent employees from also concealing that information from the company itself. For example, even if an employee has a right to publicize harassment on Twitter, the employee typically cannot ignore a company policy that requires the employee to report the conduct to a supervisor as soon as possible. Likewise, even if an employee may report a safety issue to OSHA, that does not excuse the employee from failing to report the issue to her manager. Thus, a company can manage problematic communications by requiring employees to report them internally as well, which then allows the company to promptly address them. (There are small exceptions to this concept, however, such as that an employer may not require employees to report some types of union organizing activities.)

To maximize your ability to get out in front of developing issues, it is essential to maintain policies that clearly instruct employees how to report complaints, concerns, or other issues you may want to address. At a minimum, a company should require employees to notify a designated official about safety concerns, any potential harassment or other discrimination and any other potentially unlawful conduct that comes to the employees’ attention. (Of course, the company should think strategically about who it assigns to receive these reports.) If an employer fails to clearly identify employees’ duties in these situations, that might prompt an employee to publicize a situation without ever giving the company a chance to address it.